Zambian and Zimbabwe church leaders call for Southern Africa action

By Ecumenical News International
June 20, 2008

Zambian and Zimbabwean Roman Catholic bishops have exhorted the government of Southern African to take much stronger action in pressuring the government in Harare to ensure a credible presidential election in Zimbabwe - write Peter Kenny and Moses Chitendwe.

The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference said in a press statement ahead of the 27 June presidential elections, "The reign of violence that has been unleashed on the country, especially in the rural areas and former commercial farming areas, is unacceptable.

"Base camps from which militias terrorise defenceless rural populations must be disbanded as a matter of urgency. People are being force-marched to political re-orientation meetings and are told that they voted 'wrongly' in the presidential poll on 29 March 2008 and that on 27 June 2008, they will be given the last opportunity to 'correct their mistake', else the full-scale shooting war of the 1970s will resume."

In Lusaka, the Zambia Episcopal Conference representing Catholic bishops said, "Zimbabwe is on the brink of total collapse and political destruction and we consider it our duty to raise our voice in solidarity with the suffering people of this sister country and our region."

They said, "While we commend the SADC [Southern African Development Community] we call upon the same leaders to take a much stronger action."

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches, which represents a number of churches that are members of the WCC, has been accused by some human rights activists of remaining silent during recent events in Zimbabwe.

A Zimbabwean human rights lawyer, Tino Bere, who spoke at the World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva on 18 June, said the church grouping in his country had not yet been seen to responding to many of the atrocities that are committed in Zimbabwe.

"The churches in Zimbabwe have been poisoned - deliberately poisoned by those who do not want the reality to be known. If the WCC is going to depend on information from the poisoned source it too will be poisoned," said Bere, who said Zimbabweans would not stop fighting for justice in their country.

From Geneva, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev Samuel Kobia wrote to his counterpart at the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, to express his concern about atrocities in the Southern African nation [as Ekklesia reported earlier].

Kobia on 18 June 2008 asked the UN to "play a leading role" to protect the Zimbabwean people, while a human rights lawyer from Zimbabwe called on churches to play a greater part.

The WCC general secretary has also called on churches to set aside Sunday 22 June as a day of world-wide prayer for Zimbabwe.

Kobia in his letter to Ban referred to an "an extensive dossier from the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa prepared under the leadership of Dr Allan Boesak of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa". He said, "Such information, together with media reports of violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe, raises our apprehension and concern."

Boesak, a former president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, visited Zimbabwe in April. On his return to South Africa, he sent an open letter to churches in Zimbabwe, appealing to them to speak with one voice against "tyranny".

In his letter to the UN secretary-general, WCC general secretary Kobia noted, "Harassment, beatings, arrests and ransacking of property have already extended into the churches as well as agencies of civil society."

He said, "We are dismayed at news of the brutality meted out by police and other government forces in Zimbabwe, and we are appalled at President [Robert] Mugabe's statement last week that he and [the ruling] Zanu-PF [party] would go to 'war' rather than acknowledge an election victory by the opposition MDC if this were to come to pass," said Kobia.

The WCC leader, a Kenyan, noted, "This attitude on the part of the president undermines the integrity of elections and belittles the Zimbabwean electorate."

He added, "Where the Mugabe government fails in its responsibility to protect the Zimbabwean people, the international community must assume that burden; in this endeavour, the United Nations should assume a leading role."

[With 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.]

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