Africa's largest Christian grouping, the All Africa Conference of Churches, has pledged to "pray for an end to illegitimate rule in Zimbabwe" after debating and toning down a statement about the country on the doorstep of Mozambique, where they have been meeting - writes Frank Jomo.
Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe "is using power-sharing negotiations as a strategy for wasting time and exercising continued control" over the southern African nation, the conference of churches said in a resolution issued on 11 December 2008.
It was passed after the issue of Zimbabwe arose a number of times during the once-every-five-years meeting of the AACC meeting in the Mozambican capital, Maputo, from 7-12 December.
The church grouping called on the African Union and its 53 member nations to state clearly that the current Zimbabwean regime is "illegitimate" and to stop recognising it.
"The AU and SADC should intensify pressure on President Mugabe to relinquish control of the Zimbabwean government and should consider involving international bodies - such as the International Criminal Court - where appropriate," said the resolution by the grouping of more than 130 churches in 40 countries.
Referring to the churches in Africa, the statement said, "The AACC member churches confess that we have been slow to respond to the crisis in Zimbabwe and the suffering of the Zimbabwean people, in part because of our lack of unity."
It went on, "SADC [Southern African Development Community] leaders, international mediators and the churches have failed to bring about an amicable solution to Zimbabwe’s political crisis; President Mugabe is using power-sharing negotiations as a strategy for wasting time and exercising continued control over Zimbabwe; acts of violence continue to be committed against those who do not support Zanu-PF [Mugabe's party]."
In calling for prayer for an end to the "illegitimate rule", the churches in Maputo set 25 January as a time when the churches on the continent and around the world should engage in a Special Africa Day of Prayer and Fasting for Justice in Zimbabwe.
"Action should be taken for justice and peace in Zimbabwe through measures appropriate to their national contexts," reads part of the resolution. "Such activities might include advocacy visits to leaders of nations, regional structures like SADC and the African Union; marches and demonstrations, particularly outside of Zimbabwean embassies and consulates, and collecting funds and material to provide humanitarian aid and address the cholera crisis."
The original proposal had called for a great march made up of church leaders from all over the continent, but this was toned down.
During the formulation of the statement, there were concerns that delegates cared only about the economic, governance, political and social crisis affecting the country and were neglecting spiritual concerns where the government has closed churches deemed to be critical of Mugabe and his regime.
In the resolution, the AACC called on the government of Zimbabwe to accord freedom of worship to all its citizens and to permit them access to their resources and property. It singled out especially the Harare diocese of the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa.
The people that spoke against the suffering in Zimbabwe at the general assembly included former president of Mozambique Joaquim Chissano who called on Mugabe to genuinely embark on genuine dialogue with the opposing political parties and to end violence in his country.
He said dialogue was the only solution to the Zimbabwe crisis, citing himself, as an example. Chissano said at the height of his country's 16-year-old civil war and with the help of the Church, he sat down with opposition leader Alfonso Dhlakama, a move that became the catalyst for peace in the country.
[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.]