An alliance of southern African Christian organizations has called for the African Union and other key groupings on the continent to intervene to stop human rights violations allegedly being perpetrated on Zimbabweans by the country's government - writes Takesure Matarise from Harare (ENI).
"We note with sadness that, since 2000, Zimbabweans have suffered gross human rights abuses," the alliance, known as the Regional Faith-Based Joint Initiative, said in a 5 July 2007 statement.
It added, "We appeal to the Southern Africa Development Community, African Union and Pan-African Parliament to hear the urgent plea and cry of the suffering Zimbabwean people and to act accordingly and urgently."
In 2000 and 2005, President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party won general elections in which it registered huge losses in urban areas. Human rights organizations have since alleged widespread reprisals against urban dwellers.
The alliance is made up of the Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops in Southern Africa, the Association of Evangelicals in Africa - Ethics, Peace and Justice Commission, and the Ecumenical Documentation and Information Centre in Southern Africa. The alliance says it is working to promote solutions to the deteriorating socio-economic and political situation in Zimbabwe.
"We urge the Zimbabwean government to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe have access to their basic rights of food, water, housing and education," the alliance said in its statement.
More than 80 percent of Zimbabwe's 13 million people are unemployed, and the annual inflation rate is currently estimated at 10 000 percent and rising.
"Life expectancy has moved from 55 years to about 34 years over more than 20 years of misrule," the alliance stated. "The health delivery system has totally collapsed. It is also disheartening to note that Zimbabwe has moved from being the regional bread basket to the region's foremost beggar," the group added.
A United Nations special envoy sent to Zimbabwe in 2005 estimated that more than 700,000 urban dwellers were left homeless in a government campaign called "Operation Murambatsvina", which means "Operation Drive Out Trash" in Shona, the language spoken by the majority of Zimbabweans.
The government said the operation was a slum-clearance exercise intended to rid Zimbabwe of criminal elements. Opposition politicians, however, described it as retribution against the urban population for not supporting Zanu-PF in parliamentary elections.
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]