Church leaders condemn Mugabe clampdown
Leaders of the Roman Catholic church in Zimbabwe have condemned Robert Mugabe's "cruel" clampdown on street traders and shanty town dwellers, saying it "cries out for vengeance to God" as churches in the UK also voiced their concern.
The government's Operation Murambatsvina, or Drive Out Trash, may have left more than 1.5 million people without homes and livelihoods, according to United Nations officials.
Police also have arrested more than 30,000 vendors, accusing them of dealing in black market goods and attempting to sabotage Zimbabwe's failing economy.
However, nine archbishops, bishops and administrators of church dioceses, in a formal message to an estimated one million churchgoers which was pinned on hundreds of church notice boards throughout the country, said: "A whole nation has suffered because of recent and ongoing actions.
"Now, almost four weeks after the event, countless numbers of men, women with babies, children of school age, the old and the sick, continue to sleep in the open air at winter temperatures near to freezing."
They called for special prayers to be said next Sunday.
"Any claim to justify this operation becomes totally groundless in view of the cruel and inhumane means that have been used," they said. "We condemn the gross injustice done to the poor."
The churchmen, led by Archbishop Robert Ndlovu of Harare and Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo who has previously called for a peaceful uprising against President Robert Mugabe, attacked self-styled Christians in the government who "lead a double way of life, one for Sunday services in church and another for public tasks, be they political, economic, social or any other kind".
President Mugabe, 81, regularly attends mass and was branded 'shameless' after he flew from Zimbabwe unannounced to join world leaders attending Pope John Paul II's funeral in Rome. The pastoral letter did not mention the name of the Jesuit-educated leader. The Catholic leaders added: "Innate human dignity given to us by the Creator Himself was gravely violated by the ruthless manner in which the operation was conducted and... cries out for vengeance to God."
It was the toughest statement yet by church leaders against the government crackdown. With 80 per cent unemployment, most Zimbabweans survive in the "informal sector" and now face destitution.
The United Nations, which estimates four million people will need famine relief before the next harvests in 2006, believes up to 1.5 million may have been left without homes or livelihoods by the crackdown.
Police have warned it will be extended from cities and towns to previously unaffected country areas, to which the majority of the shanty town dwellers have fled.
President Mugabe's recently dismissed propaganda chief, Jonathan Moyo, said last week that the operation was not pre-planned, but part of manoeuvring by ruling Zanu-PF party factions seeking to name a successor to Mr Mugabe when his current term ends in 2008. He has been in power since 1980 when the country became independent from Britain.
His rule has become increasingly authoritarian since he embarked upon a controversial programme of confiscating 5,000 white-owned farms.
President Mugabe himself blames sanctions and boycotts sponsored by Britain and the United States for economic problems, alleging they are meant to reverse land redistribution.
Over the weekend, South Africa's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, criticised president Thabo Mbeki's public silence over the "clean-up" campaign, saying the "operation bears all the hallmarks of Apartheid-era forced removals," when non-whites were forcibly transferred from their homes to different areas.
The Methodist Church of Great Britain (MCB) has also expressed deep concern about the political situation in Zimbabwe.
Roy Crowder, MCB World Church Secretary for Africa, said, 'we note the statements from the Zimbabwe National Pastors Conference and other Christian groups and are greatly concerned about this new expression of political violence in Zimbabwe. There can be no justification for such sudden and indiscriminate demolition of so many homes leaving men, women and children with nowhere to go. We pray for those affected and for churches and other groups in the country who at this time are seeking to persuade the Government of the injustice of this action. MRDF and the World Church office are in dialogue with local partners regarding the clearance operation and will determine whether further support is required.'
Meanwhile the food situation in Zimbabwe is causing alarm after poor rains that have affected the prospects of harvests in several countries in the region.
Steve Hucklesby, Secretary for International Affairs for the Methodist Church, said, 'The UN have estimated that 3 to 4 million Zimbabweans will require food assistance this year. The Government claims that the Grain Marketing Board will order 1.2 million tonnes of grain from neighbouring countries but this will be a big challenge given the current foreign exchange situation.'
'Many people are very vulnerable having already reduced their food intake to one meal a day,' said Steve Hucklesby. 'It takes time to mobilise food and needs careful advance planning. Last year President Mugabe predicted a bumper harvest and ordered the WFP food assessment team out of the country. The situation this year will demand good working relationships between the Government of Zimbabwe, UN, private sector, NGOs and churches.'