On Thursday, 14 August 2020, the Zimbabwean Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) issued a pastoral letter entitled “The March is not ended“. Drawing on the experience of the prophets Micah and Jeremiah they criticised the Government of Zimbabwe, in turn incurring the Government’s wrath. Fr Nobert Munekani SJ, a Zimbabwean Jesuit who is working in Johannesburg, explains the ensuing events in Zimbabwe over the weekend.
Citizens and non-citizens of Zimbabwe took to social media to express solidarity with the country’s Catholic bishops, after they released an outspoken Pastoral letter on Thursday, 14 August, criticising widespread corruption, the worsening political and economic situation, growing poverty, and the looting of COVID-19 funds and other human rights abuses under the current regime. The bishops reminded Catholic Ministers and the ruling ZANU-PF officials particularly to remember that they are shepherds who have no political ambitions and could not remain silent in the face of so much suffering. They also warned the President of Zimbabwe that his attempts to silence angry voices would only make matters worse. The bishops likewise raised concerns of people who continue to live in hideouts, with some incarcerated, while others are on the run afraid of the heavy-handedness of the regime. ‘Fear runs down the spine of many of our people today’ they said.
The bishops also voiced their concern at how corruption has reached alarming levels but the government has not shown any determination to fight the scourge. They articulated how the poor are neglected, their cries for an improved health system are ignored and their plea for a transport system that meets their needs are only met with empty promises, “The only time we see real action is when our leaders are jostling for power” they said.
Despite the voices of various governments, the European Union, the African Union, United Nations Civic groups and the Church on the desperate situation in Zimbabwe, the regime continues to blame the opposition parties, Western sanctions, civic organisations, natural causes such as drought, cyclones, the COVID-19 pandemic and more recently the Church, for its problems. They label anyone who thinks differently as an enemy of the country. This blame game and avoiding responsibility is a worry for the bishops. The clergy also noted with regret that President Mnangagwa blocked SA President Ramaphosa’s envoys from meeting the opposition and other key stakeholders, in an effort to solve the crisis in Zimbabwe. “Their failure to make broad consultations with the church and civic society at this most tempestuous time was most regrettable. Was this not an opportunity missed?” they queried.
“We want our politics to build a united nation and not to divide us, turning the military who ought to continue the memory of the late heroes against the people who fed them and clothed them and who gathered intelligence at great risk and saved many of our fighters from peril,” they said. The bishops also noted that while some fellow African countries were strengthening their democratic institutions, Zimbabwe was busy weakening its institutions. As a solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe the bishops called for a comprehensive national settlement plan involving civic society, churches, business and professional bodies, among others.
After the release of their pastoral letter, information minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, was scathing in her criticism of the church leaders, particularly of the ZCBC’s president Archbishop Robert Ndlovu from the minority Ndebele ethnic group. She described him as “evil minded”, and accused him of inciting ethnic division and made comparisons to the role of the Church in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Reaction to the Government response from civil society was swift with statements in solidarity with the Catholic Bishops coming from Catholic Students, the Catholic Lawyers Guild, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Zimbabwean Human Rights Association, Platform for Concerned Citizens, Catholic Professionals Network of Zimbabwe, the Evangelical Fellowship, the African Diaspora Network, the Zimbabwean Conference of Major Religious Superiors, the Zimbabwean Council of Churches, the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Southern Africa and Zambia, and the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Methodist World Council, among others, all issuing statements of support for the Catholic bishops and condemning the government of Zimbabwe’s actions and response. Calls have been made for the retraction of the information minister’s statement. Support for the bishops’ statement continues to pour in from various national and international bodies, and social media has erupted with #IStandWithTheCatholicBishops, #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, #TheMarchIsNotEnded.
Click here to read the full Pastoral Letter from the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference.