Sentamu in TV dog collar protest against Mugabe human rights abuses

By staff writers
9 Dec 2007

In a typically colourful live television gesture, Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu cut up his clerical collar and has said that he will not wear one again until Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has been removed from power.

Dr Sentamu suffered personally under the notorious dictatorial regime of Idi Amin in Uganda, and has been increasingly outspoken about gross human rights abuses in Zimbabwe in recent months.

He made the symbolic protest live on BBC1's Sunday Politics Show with Andrew Marr. The Archbishop commented that Mr Mugabe had "taken people's identity" and "cut it to pieces", denying them their full human dignity and rights.

He then chose to cut up his 'dog collar' (as clerical collars are popularly called) as a symbol of his own priestly identity. Many Christian leaders in the country have been outspoken in opposition to Mugabe, though one well-known Anglican bishop has courted widespread disapproval by backing him.

This week's summit of European and African leaders in Portugal has been dominated by controversy over Mr Mugabe's presence. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, boycotted the meeting in protest. Others have used the opportunity to speak out. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Mr Mugabe's policies had "damaged Africa".

A number of African leaders demanded that the organisers of the event should invite the Zimbabwean ruler to attend, although he is formally banned from travelling in the European Union.

The Africa-EU summit is seeking to agree joint policy aims in areas such as security, development and good governance.

Dr Sentamu told the BBC that the international community, especially South Africa, had to act to help Zimbabwe because people were starving. He said African states had to stop blaming someone else for their problems.

Mr Mugabe and some African heads of state have tried to blame the chaos of Zimbabwe on its colonial past. But opposition groups say that although no-one doubts the crimes committed in previous eras, Mugabe's attempt to shift the blame away from his own cruel policies is factually indefensible.

The Zimbabwean leader himself has remained defiantly unrepentant in the face of international criticism, which he dubs "racist and imperialist".

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of York, cutting up his clerical collar on national TV, declared: "As an Anglican this is what I wear to identify myself, that I'm a clergyman. Do you know what Mugabe has done? He's taken people's identity and literally, if you don't mind, cut it to pieces. This is what he's actually done to a lot of - and in the end there's nothing. So, as far as I'm concerned, from now on I'm not going to wear a dog collar until Mugabe is gone."

Analysts say Zimbabwe's economy has been in freefall for months now, with inflation running at more than 3,700% - the highest in the world. With 80 per cent unemployment, nly one in five of Zimbabwe's adult population has a job and basic items such as bread, sugar, petrol are unavailable in most shops.

South Africa's Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Laureate, has also protested about the Zimbabwe crisis.

He urged European Union leaders to confront Mr Mugabe over his human rights abuses during their Lisbon summit, saying that silence could be seen as collusion by those who were suffering directly as a result of them.

"I would expect that the EU leaders would criticise any regime that violates human rights because if you don't, you are condoning those violations. The violators will think you are on their side," Archbishop Tutu told Portugese Renascenca Radio.

Dr Tutu said he was deeply saddened and upset by the situation in Zimbabwe. He has called Mr Mugabe "a caricature of an African leader."

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