Anglican bishops and other church leaders in Southern African have been maintaining pressure on dictator Robert Mugabe over the past week, calling for action against the disputed president of Zimbabwe.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Laureate, renewed his attack on South Africa for its lack of action against Mr Mugabe, and repeated his call to the international community to remove him forcibly if he refuses to step down voluntarily.
A "new doctrine of responsibility to protect" had to be invoked, Tutu told BBC Radio 4 in an interview last week. Mr Mugabe "needs to be warned, and his cronies must be warned that the world is not just going to sit by and do nothing," he declared.
Meanwhile the Anglican Bishop of Pretoria, the Rt Rev Dr Jo Seoka has called upon President Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa to act against Mugabe.
"Looking at the situation in Zimbabwe, one cannot help but challenge the government of South Africa to consider seriously the humanitarian crisis faced by the Zimbabwean people in Musina and act decisively on it," the bishop said.
He added that he had previously called upon both the government and the Southern African Development Community to take tougher action against Mugabe. "However, no action has been taken by the political leaders of our country to protect the Zimbabwean nationals within our borders. Yet people continue to be detained without trial, and to die of diseases of impoverishment such as cholera."
The conditions under which the Zimbabweans found themselves could no longer be tolerated, Seoka said.
He continued: "As a spiritual leader and the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Pretoria, I challenge my own government first, to send a delegation on a fact-finding mission that will inform and empower us to act decisively to rescue the innocent nationals of Zimbabwe, both in their country, and in such places as Musina, where they are being treated to a fate worse than animals."
The bishop said it was tragic to learn that one of the observers in the area noted that even his dogs did not live under the conditions to which the Zimbabwean nationals were being subjected. The bishop added that South Africa had to now consider sending a peacekeeping force to Zimbabwe, to protect civilians, "particularly those who are human rights advocates, such as Jestina Mukoko, who was abducted and molested".
He also called on South Africa to stop supplying electricity and water to Zimbabwe, "simply because these amenities have become accessible only to Mugabe and his cronies, and not the poor who are evidently dying of starvation and thirst".
Seoka said it was the right of South African citizens to speak out on such matters, "as it is our tax which subsidises the supply of these amenities". He added that should peacekeeping fail, "we must, as a country, call upon our President Kgalema Motlanthe, to exercise his responsibility as the chair of Southern African Development Community, to mobilise SADC forces to go to Zimbabwe as peacemakers".
In his Christmas pastoral letter to Zimbabwean Anglicans, the Bishop of Harare, Dr Sebastian Bakare, said there was "a litany of challenges" of problems that are destroying Zimbabwe.
He wrote: "Cholera, hunger, HIV/AIDs, lack of health care, homelessness, unemployment, poverty, corruption, kidnappings, callousness, harassment, you name it. . . All these challenges rob us of an opportunity to have a meaningful and purposeful life. As I write, some families are nursing their relatives who are suffering from the effects of cholera expecting them to die any time, others stay indoors, unable to come out from their houses because of the unbearable stench of sewage flowing in front of their doorsteps, while still others are burying their dead. We hear of a horrific case where one family lost five children in 36 hours."
Dr Bakare described it as "an ugly and horrendous situation". Such feelings of hopelessness and dejection can challenge faith in God, he said, but "can also lead us to deeper understanding of the helplessness, powerlessness, dejection, and pain that Jesus had to bear on our behalf". God has not abandoned Zimbabwe, and the Lord does not fail his chosen, he assured his people.
Catholic and Methodist leaders have also spoken out in New Year communications.