Over recent years, the Mugabe regime has introduced several measures
to silence dissent. Quite apart from open police brutality,
measures like the Non-Governmental Organisations Bill 2004 (NGO
Bill, see link 1) and the draconian Public Order and Security Act
(POSA, which provides the police with wide-ranging powers to control
or ban public gatherings of three or more persons) have enabled the
Mugabe regime to crush or silence dissent, close doors and obstruct
channels of communication and aid. These laws have had a devastating
effect upon the Church's ability to deliver humanitarian aid and
engage in human rights, justice and freedom issues.
The POSA was recently used to ban a prayer procession organised by a
united Christian forum called "Churches in Bulawayo", on the grounds
that the police deemed it a security risk. In their statement to the
press Churches in Bulawayo expressed serious concern that the police
would deny them the right to hold a prayer procession. They regard
this as a serious infringement of their freedom to worship.
UPHOLDING THE BIBLICAL MANDATE
On 23 May 2005 a wave of demolitions heralded the commencement of
Robert Mugabe's "Operation Murambatsvina". It is estimated that some
300,000 homes were demolished by the "Mugabe Tsunami" – a man-made
disaster that left some 1.5 million homeless and destitute. Several
people including small children were crushed in the dwellings they
called "home". Many other victims died from the consequences of
poverty combined with homelessness, such as starving or freezing to
death. Still others died prematurely from illnesses simply because
the medical missions and NGOs that served the poor were likewise not
spared. The WEA RLC report on "Operation Murambatsvina" can be
found at Link 2.
Operation Murambatsvina left Zimbabwe's churches facing what
appeared to be an insurmountable volume of human suffering. However,
one great blessing did arise from the ashes of Murambatsvina.
Christians long divided by difference found unity in their
conviction that they must uphold the Biblical mandate to defend the
poor and needy, and that they can do it best if they do it together.
Operation Murambatsvina gave life and purpose to a powerful movement
of practical church unity. Churches in Bulawayo is one such church
alliance. According to its 16 May 2006 press release, "Churches in
Bulawayo sheltered over 2000 families at the height of Murambatsvina
and have continued to provide food assistance as well as medical
help and payment of school fees for displaced children."
Churches in Bulawayo organised a prayer procession for 20 May 2006
to commemorate Operation Murambatsvina and pray for its victims.
"Sokwanele" Civil Action Support Group reports, "This event was but
one of the several organized across the country by the Zimbabwe
Christian Alliance, an informal ecumenical alliance seeking a united
Christian response to the current crisis. The objective - shared by
many civic groups including Crisis in Zimbabwe - was to focus
attention on the plight of victims of ZANU PF's purge of the poor,
one year on from the nationwide campaign of destruction which saw
hundreds of thousands rendered homeless and destitute." (Link 3)
Church leaders in Bulawayo consulted the police about their
intention to hold a prayer procession. They did this as a courtesy,
not because they were obliged to, as events that have "bona fide
religious purposes" are exempt from the POSA. The police initially
granted the churches clearance. However, they soon made an about
turn and withdrew permission saying the procession would be a
security risk. The Churches in Bulawayo press release explains,
"What has frightened the police is that thousands of Bulawayo
residents are intending to take part in the procession."
After withdrawing permission for the prayer procession, police then
moved to intimidate the pastors into submission. The Churches in
Bulawayo press release explains: "Since yesterday [Monday 15 May]
junior police officers have been calling individual clerics to
interrogate and intimidate them to cancel the procession. But this
morning, Tuesday, about 30 senior security officers in Bulawayo who
are members of the Joint Operations Command – that is composed of
police, army and Central Intelligence Organisation – summoned the
leadership of Churches in Bulawayo to a two-hour interrogation
The Bulawayo pastors however, being consumed with conviction that
they must obey the Biblical mandate – "Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy" (Proverbs 31:9) – were not
easily intimidated. Instead, they challenged the police ban in the
Bulawayo High Court. Lawyers for the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance
argued that the police ban was an "infringement of our freedom to
worship" and it demonstrated "the desperate position of this
regime". Late in the evening of Friday 19 May, the High Court ruled
in favour of the pastors, saying that the churches had the legal
right to hold a prayer procession. (Link 4)
Sokwanele's report is entitled, "More steel in the men of God:
Despite police threats the Church goes ahead with Commemoration,"
and it explains what happened next. "The organizers of most of the
other commemorative events planned for this weekend [20-21 May]
eventually succumbed to police pressure to call them off. Not so the
pastors who lead Churches in Bulawayo." (Link 3)
On Saturday 20 May, in defiance of Mugabe's police, Churches in
Bulawayo led some 300 very courageous believers in a prayer
procession. Everyone who participated did so with the knowledge
that, in the words of Rev. Promise Mnceda, ". . .the likelihood of
arrests and beatings is very high." (Reuters 19 May)
The prayer procession commenced at St Patrick's Church in Makokoba,
Bulawayo's oldest township. From there the band of believers walked
into the city singing "Nkosi Sikeleli Africa" (a famous African
anthem) and hymns and choruses. Sokwanele reports that the singing
attracted "the friendly attention of passers-by". Police and CIO
officers lined the route, but the day passed without incident. When
the procession reached its destination at the Brethren in Christ
Church in the city, those taking part settled down outside to listen
to speeches, songs and a poem written especially for the event.
Messages of solidarity were read from supporters such as Zimbabwean
Archbishop Pius Ncube (unable to attend) and British-based TEAR
Fund. (Link 5)
Sokwanele concludes: "For many of the unfortunate victims of
Operation Murambatsvina and hundreds of internally displaced persons
the Church has become their only refuge and security in a turbulent
time of deep crisis. They are grateful, and we as a nation should be
profoundly grateful that the Church is there for them. That the
Church is taking up its divine mandate, not only to care for the
victims of the most gross human rights abuses but also to challenge
and confront the arrogant tyranny responsible, is a cause for
Rejoice – yes! But don't forget, these church leaders are facing
perilous times. By the time the next church event rolls around the
Bulawayo High Court will doubtless have a new judge (see Institute
for War and Peace Reporting: "Mugabe Moulds Pliant Judiciary", link 6).
PERSECUTION BY PROXY
But the suffering of Zimbabwe has not produced a turning point for
the churches so much as it has produced a watershed, and not all
church leaders are falling down the same side of the mountain.
Churches in Zimbabwe are splitting and polarising over the issue of
how to respond to the Mugabe regime. Groups like the Churches of
Bulawayo and the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance advocate solidarity for
the purpose of upholding the Biblical mandate of Proverbs 31:9.
Others however believe that preaching salvation without engagement
in political issues must be the sole focus of the church.
Others still are discovering that allegiance to Mugabe can be very
profitable, both in terms of promotion and material reward. Church
leaders driven by greed, power-lust and pride rather than a heart
for God's kingdom and glory – and such leaders are found in every
nation – enjoy symbiotic relationships with the Mugabe regime. This
enables Mugabe to interfere directly in church affairs and persecute
"troublesome" clerics via proxies: bishops who have exchanged the
Biblical mandate for a dictator's rewards.
Most notable is the case of the Anglican Bishop of Harare, Nolbert
Kunonga, who not only accepted the gift of St Marnock's Farm in
Nyabiri (someone else's land) as a token of personal gratitude from
Robert Mugabe, but he also used Zanu PF militia to evict the 40
families of farm workers living in the farm village. Further more it
has been alleged that Kunonga used his influence with the ruling
party to secure the post of bishop of Harare.
In August 2005 Kunonga appeared before the Provincial Court of the
Anglican Church of Central Africa (an ecclesiastical court) to face
38 charges, including incitement to murder, intimidating critics,
preaching racial hatred, and mishandling church funds. In December
2005 the court hearing collapsed without explanation and all charges
were dropped. Many suspect Zanu PF interference.
Twelve priests have left the parish since Kunonga became bishop, ten
of whom live in exile, claiming to have fled persecution. According
to the Reverend Paul Gwese who fled Zimbabwe last September, ". .
.Reverend Nolbert Kunonga, . . .has terrorised Christians, and . .
.is turning his diocese into a religious branch of Mugabe's ruling
ZANU PF party." The exiled clerics recently observed a day of prayer
and then unanimously agreed to approach Ugandan-born John Sentamu,
Britain's first black archbishop, for help. (Link 7)
Elizabeth Kendal[email protected]
1) Zimbabwe: The NGO Bill and the Church. 20 January 2005 http://www.evangelicalalliance.org.au/rlc/WEADetail.php?ID=456
2) Zimbabwe: urban renewal or social engineering? 4 July 2005 http://www.evangelicalalliance.org.au/rlc/WEADetail.php?ID=495
3) More steel in the men of God: Despite police threats the Church
goes ahead with Commemoration. Saturday, 20 May 2006http://www.sokwanele.com/thisiszimbabwe/archives/415
4) Churches in court fight for 'prayer marches'
By Jane Fields, Harare, 19 May 2006http://news.scotsman.com/international.cfm?id=743752006
Bulawayo high court upholds churches' legal right to march
By Tererai Karimakwend,. 20 May 2006 http://www.swradioafrica.com/news190506/churchmarch200506.htm
5) Bulawayo churches defy Zimbabwe protest ban. 22 May 2006http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/news_syndication/article_060522zimb.shtml
'We Remember': A Poem written In Honor of the Victims of
Murambatsvina. By Dumisani O. Nkomo http://www.sokwanele.com/thisiszimbabwe/?cat=37
6) Mugabe Moulds Pliant Judiciary.
By Hativagone Mushonga in Harare, 31 May 2006http://www.iwpr.net/?p=acr&s=f&o=321302&apc_state=henh
7) Shameful silence on Nolbert Kunonga, Anglican Bishop of Harare
5 January 2006 http://www.sokwanele.com/thisiszimbabwe/archives/334
Zimbabwean clerics to seek help from Archbishop of York. 27 May 2006 http://www.zimbabwejournalists.com/story.php?art_id=465&cat=2
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