The only known functioning ecumenical church grouping in Zimbabwe says Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party is showing "bad faith" in its commitment to a unity government formed with the Movement for Democratic Change party earlier in February. "Zanu-PF has done nothing to build confidence and demonstrate a genuine paradigm shift," the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance said in a statement on 27 February referring to Mugabe's party, which ruled Zimbabwe after independence from Britain in 1980, but lost parliamentary elections in March 2008.
"Up to now they have not shown anything to indicate that to them the agreement is real in spirit and not on paper only. Instead of engaging the MDC on the issues of justice and national reconciliation, they are preoccupied with asking the international community to lift so-called sanctions," said the church grouping. It was referring to sanctions placed on the movement of top party officials in Mugabe's Zanu-PF.
"At home they have demonstrated their bad faith by not releasing political prisoners like Jestina Mukoko, arresting [nominated deputy agriculture minister] Roy Bennett on spurious charges," said the alliance that includes Roman Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, Evangelicals and Pentecostals.
Mugabe, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, leader of a tiny MDC breakaway party, signed an agreement on 15 September that led to the formation of a unity government in February following the 2008 general elections.
But the formation of the new government, which among other things seeks to promote national reconciliation and fight a chronic economic crisis, has been marred by the continued incarceration of opposition and rights activists including Mukoko and Bennett, who the MDC has nominated to be deputy agriculture minister.
Bennett, the MDC treasurer, is a white farmer who had his farm seized by Zanu-PF members. He was arrested the day the new government was inaugurated and charged with possession of arms for purposes of committing acts of banditry and sabotage. He is still being held in jail. Mukoko, director of a civic body comprising church, labour and rights groups was taken from her home on 3 December and accused of attempting to recruit a police officer to undergo military training to topple Mugabe. They both deny the charges.
"We as representatives of the church are anxious to see that this agreement works. The people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough. We would, therefore, like to see a number of actions by the government to prove their sincerity and determination to see that it works," the Christian Alliance stated. "We realise that this is not a triumph of African solutions and principles but a reproach because it indicates that the voice of the people as stated democratically through the ballot box in March 2008 has not been recognised or respected."
Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in a presidential election, but the government's electoral commission insisted on a run-off, which the MDC leader refused to contest due to intimidation of voters, allowing Mugabe to win an election that has not been internationally recognised.
Supporters of Mugabe have planned a lavish 85th birthday party for him on Saturday 28 February 2009.
[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.]