The leader of Zimbabwe's largest functioning alliance of Christians says the country's main grouping of traditional Protestant churches and the African and global umbrella church organizations with which it is affiliated have been notable for their silence on what is happening in his country - writes Peter Kenny.
"The Zimbabwe Council of Churches has done nothing. The churches should have been speaking without fear of favour, just speaking on behalf of suffering masses of Zimbabwe. Their absenteeism is so pronounced," said Methodist Bishop Levee Kadenge, the convenor of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance.
Kadenge was speaking on 28 October 2008 after a meeting held at the Geneva Ecumenical Centre, which houses the headquarters of the World Council of Churches. The ZCC is affiliated with the global church grouping as well as with the Nairobi-based All African Conference of Churches.
The Methodist bishop said it was difficult for the WCC and the African church grouping to speak up for Zimbabweans due to the stance of the ZCC, but that they could have done so if they had chosen to. He noted that 11 million Zimbabweans are suffering under an inflation rate in excess of 200 million percent, and that unemployment exceeds 80 percent, while millions of Zimbabweans live in exile.
The head of Zimbabwe's Zanu-PF party, Robert Mugabe who became leader of his country in 1980, is refusing to budge from power or to fully share it with the Movement for Democratic Change which won a parliamentary election in March, say Zimbabwean opposition leaders.
Asked why he thought so many church leaders had remained silent while Zimbabweans had suffered, Kadenge said, "I think it is a question of fear."
"If that means they are silent and they choose to be, that is their choice," Kadenge told Ecumenical News International. "But they can go for it. Truth bearers are not often welcome. The scriptures say so. If the ZCC wants it can stand persecution by talking the truth. If they don't want that persecution, that is their choice."
The bishop, who has been detained without trial five times by security officials and is scheduled to return home, was asked if he was not afraid to speak out.
"Yes I fear. God yes, I fear, I am a human being. I'm afraid. That does not stop me doing what I have to do," Kadenge told ENI. "That is the difference. If I say I'm not afraid, I'm dead. But I'm convinced there is a bigger force beyond me that takes care of those things."
Still he said, "Churches at grassroots level are very active and that is why the church continues to be there. But I don't think that is enough."
The Christian alliance of church leaders emerged in 2005 to provide humanitarian services to the homeless following the government's Operation Murambatsvina ("drive out rubbish" in the local Shona language), a forced eviction and demolition campaign that affected hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans.
Today the ZCA, a grouping that includes Roman Catholic, Protestants, Anglicans Evangelicals and Pentecostals, says on its Web site, "The mission of the organization is to bring about social transformation in Zimbabwe through prophetic action."
Bishop Kadenge said the Zimbabwe people should be praised for never turning on one another and engaging in massive killings.
On 28 October, the MDC secretary-general, Tendai Biti. said Mugabe's party was not sincerely committed to entering into a genuine cooperative government under a power-sharing deal in September brokered by then South African president Thabo Mbeki.
The agreement to institute a power-sharing unity government has since stalled in a dispute about the allocation of ministerial portfolios.
Bishop Kadenge said the Zanu-PF party, which had been ruling Zimbabwe since 1980, should be making the most concessions in the negotiations since it lost the March parliamentary elections.
Kadenge said, "We were expecting that yesterday there would be an agreement signed…. We hoped people of Zimbabwe would be able to breathe fresh air … There is no trust."
[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.]