Church leaders concerned that time is running out in Zimbabwe

By Ecumenical News International
August 26, 2008

Christian leaders in Zimbabwe have called on parties to continuing power-sharing talks to shun partisan interests and urgently break the impasse that is holding back the conclusion of negotiations aimed at resolving the country's political and economic crisis.

"As the Church, we urge the political parties to take national issues seriously and avoid advancing selfish partisan interests," Goodwill Shana, chairperson of the Heads of Christian Denominations group, was quoted as saying in an interview with the government-run newspaper, The Herald, on 20 August 2008.

"We are losing time; we need to move forward and break the impasse," said Shana.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, mediating in talks between Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and the Movement for Democratic Change, which won a majority of seats in the March parliamentary elections, were adjourned late on 19 August after reports that Mugabe was demanding he retain power in the country.

Although the negotiators have not officially given the reason for the deadlock, sources close to the talks say opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai refused to sign, and was insisting that the post of prime minister that reports say it is proposed he would hold, should have real executive power and thus more influence than Mugabe in the proposed government.

The international community has so far not recognized the election of 84-year-old Mugabe as president. For his part, the long-time leader of Zimbabwe has refused to relinquish his executive powers.

The current talks were expected to resolve the political crisis that resulted from the one-candidate presidential run-off internationally declared as a sham election, and which sole candidate Mugabe won after Tsvangirai boycotted the race following a campaign period marred by violence and intimidation.

The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference has welcomed the talks in South Africa, although the bishops said the process should be more inclusive in order for it to gain legitimacy. The Catholic leaders called on the negotiating parties not to rush into a government of national unity but to urgently dismantle instruments of violence, reject impunity, and usher in a new political culture in which accountability, inclusiveness, transparency, healing and reconciliation are paramount.

The bishops also urged the negotiators to act with urgency given the economic situation in Zimbabwe that saw the official annual inflation rise in June 2008 to 11.2 million percent, although independent economists say the real figure could well be over 20 million percent.

"We urge negotiators to recognise the urgency of economic priorities," the Catholic bishops said in a statement reacting to the earlier signing of a memorandum of agreement on 21 July between the three parties. "They will need to create an environment in which production can begin to take place and economic stability established. We will continue to pray for God's grace, and to encourage all citizens to pray for the process that has begun so that … all people are reconciled and become one."

[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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