Peaceful and positive global pressure needed to bring change to Zimbabwe says a Mennonite church leader with direct experience of the situation in the conflict-torn southern African nation.
Ferne Burkhardt writes: “It is God's grace that sustains us,” said Bishop Danisa Ndlovu from his hotel room the morning after Zimbabwe's election. From Bulawayo, Ndlovu who is vice-president and president-elect of Mennonite World Conference, was in Toronto to speak at the Brethren in Christ General Conference (North America).
Two days after the June 27 election, discredited by much of the world, Robert Mugabe was sworn in as president of Zimbabwe in time for him to attend the African Union summit in Egypt as the nation's newly elected head of state. His election was announced within hours of the polls closing in contrast to the March 29 election when citizens waited for more than a month for vote results. Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, had withdrawn from the ballot, condemning the run-off election as a farce.
The March election was called free but not fair; the run-off election in June was said to be neither, with beatings and harassment happening within sight of African and international observers, noted Ndlovu. Rural areas were particularly vulnerable. He did not know if BIC people were among victims. He knew that his own family in Bulawayo was fine, although he was unable to communicate directly the morning after the election since phones were not working.
While Ndlovu hopes the aggression and harassment of opposition party supporters will go down, he does not expect much change in the country without regional and international pressure on the president.
“The meeting in Egypt is significant. The situation is ripe for the African Union [leaders] to take a stand,” he said. “This is no longer a Zimbabwean issue but an African issue and an international issue.”
Many Zimbabweans have fled to neighbouring countries, particularly to South Africa where churches are growing due to the influx of refugees. Some of Ndlovu's Brethren in Christ people are trying to leave Zimbabwe, he said. The latest unofficial church “head count” is 22,000 while statistics list 35,000 members.
People live with anxiety. Church leaders especially are targets because they are seen to have influence and they speak out on political issues.
“We know we are being watched, but when we preach, we can't overlook corruption and suffering,” said Ndlovu. He expressed gratitude to the global faith community for the presence of Dan Nighswander and Yvonne Snider-Nighswander, Mennonite Church Canada workers in South Africa whom Mennonite World Conference sent to Zimbabwe to pray and walk with BIC church leaders and their families for two weeks around the time of the election.
“We are overwhelmed by the moral support of the international church and the prayers of God's people everywhere. It is a great encouragement,” said Ndlovu.
The economic situation continues to be extremely difficult. With inflation cited at two million percent, figures are meaningless, he said. People simply get whatever they can wherever they can, often crossing into neighbouring countries.
“The government is pushing people too far and there is potential for violence, but people are not keen on engaging in any form of violence,” he observed. “I don't anticipate violence in the streets unless there is a big provocation.” His own BIC church members, he concluded, “need to be peaceful and not lose their trust in God.”