Zimbabwe's Downward Spiral
Church Calls for Good Governance
By Father John Flynn
ROME, APRIL 2, 2007 (Zenit) - Church concern over the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe is growing. After the government increased violence against political opponents, Archbishop Pius Ncube called on Zimbabweans to protest the state's actions, the Associated Press reported March 22.
"We have to stand up against this oppression," the archbishop of Bulawayo said at a meeting of clerics, activists and diplomats.
In early March, Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of Zimbabwe's main opposition party, was hospitalized after being beaten by police after his arrest at a rally, the London-based Times newspaper reported March 13. The leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was arrested along with dozens of opposition officials, rights activists and clerics. The opposition blames President Robert Mugabe for many of the nation's problems.
In addition to political troubles, the economy is in jeopardy. Recently, the governor of the nation's reserve bank, Gideon Gono, admitted that he had run out of funds, reported the Guardian newspaper March 1.
In testimony before the parliamentary committee on defense and home affairs, Gono said there was no money to buy vehicles for the police or to print passports. Electricity supplies and transport are also at risk, he said, with little currency available to finance the operations.
A report published March 5 by the International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization, provided a grim overview of the country's situation. The International Monetary Fund predicts that inflation could pass 4,000% by the end of this year. Salaries of most public officials are below the poverty line, and a new round of home and business demolitions is being planned, according to the International Crisis Group's report. A similar demolition program in 2005 displaced around 700,000 people.
The report explained that Zimbabwe's economy shrunk by 40% between 1998 and 2006. The country's gross domestic product is expected to shrink a further 4.7% this year. Unemployment is now at the 80% level.
By mid-2005, income per capita fell to 1953 levels, a fall greater than that experienced during recent conflicts in countries such as Ivory Coast and Congo.
According to government data, 80% of the population in Zimbabwe was already below the poverty line in 2002.
Life expectancy is one of the lowest in the world, at 36.6 years. According to 2005 statistics, 20.1% of the population 15-49 is affected by HIV/AIDS. This is among the highest infection rates in the world.
Call to dialogue
The news agency Fides published a joint statement March 22 by the leaders of Zimbabwe's Christian Churches. The declaration was signed by the Zimbabwe Catholic bishops conference on March 17. The statement spoke of a situation in the country of "extreme danger and difficulty."
"Yet, it can also be turned into a moment of grace and of a new beginning, if those on all sides who are responsible for causing the crisis repent and heed the cry of the people," the bishops added.
The declaration confirmed support for legitimate political authority, but at the same time stipulated that this power must not be abused through recourse to violence, oppression and intimidation.
"We call on those who are responsible for the current crisis in our country to repent and listen to the cry of their citizens," the bishops stated. At the same time, they asked the people of Zimbabwe for "peace and restraint when expressing their justified grievances and demonstrating for their human rights." The declaration concluded with a call to dialogue to resolve the crisis and build a democracy that respects the rights of every citizen.
Shortly before, on March 13, the South African Council of Churches (SACC) published a statement calling attention to the grave situation in Zimbabwe. The SACC is composed of 26 member churches and associated para-church organizations, and represents the majority of Christians in South Africa.
The SACC drew attention to the human rights violations in Zimbabwe and the fact that church leaders are being harassed by the police.
Eddie Makue, the secretary-general of the SACC, also accused authorities of attempting to cause and exploit divisions within the churches in an attempt to "divide and rule," and to stifle opposition.
"The inhuman actions of the Zimbabwe security forces are rapidly closing the options open to the people of Zimbabwe in finding amicable resolutions for the many challenges confronting this troubled nation," warned the SACC.
The statement also commented that the chaos was causing a massive migration of Zimbabweans to other countries in the region, overwhelming the capacity of relief services operated by the churches.
As a result, the situation in Zimbabwe is threatening to destabilize the entire region.
Regarding the action of other countries in the region, Archbishop Ncube recently criticized the South African government for failing to put sufficient pressure on Zimbabwe.
According to a report published March 20 by the Voice of America radio service, the archbishop said South Africa is in a good position to put pressure on Zimbabwe. But, he said, the South African government is merely watching.
A March 22 report by the London-based Financial Times newspaper observed that southern African governments have traditionally favored a policy of "quiet diplomacy" regarding Zimbabwe. Recently, however, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa called for a new approach.
"Quiet diplomacy has failed to solve the political and economic meltdown in Zimbabwe," he said. Mwanawasa likened the situation in Zimbabwe to "a sinking Titanic whose passengers are jumping out to save their lives," in reference to the millions of citizens who have fled the country.
Nevertheless, a meeting held Thursday by the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc opted to continue a low-profile approach. The summit, held in Tanzania to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe, merely agreed that South African President Thabo Mbeki should try to mediate in the political crisis in Zimbabwe, the BBC reported Thursday. Mbeki will try to arrange talks between Mugabe and the opposition.
Will he listen?
It remains to be seen if Zimbabwe's president will listen to his neighbors. Just prior to the meeting, police surrounded the party headquarters of the Movement for Democratic Change in the country's capital, Harare, Reuters reported Wednesday. The police briefly detained MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, along with other party officials.
In addition, the day after the SADC meeting Mugabe's political position was strengthened when the central committee of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front chose him as their presidential candidate for the next elections.
President Robert Mugabe's current term of office is scheduled to end next March. Mugabe, 83, has governed Zimbabwe since 1980. Mugabe told the central committee to resist "the machinations of the West," reported Reuters on March 30.
Also on Thursday, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) published a statement on Zimbabwe. The declaration followed a meeting of the standing committee of SECAM, held in Accra, Ghana.
"The situation in Zimbabwe is not the result of a natural catastrophe or only of adverse international conditions," the statement noted. "It is largely self-inflicted. It is a crisis of moral leadership and of bad governance."
"We strongly appeal to the government of Zimbabwe, in the name of Jesus, to immediately stop the violence," declared SECAM. The statement also called upon the country's political leaders "to be fair, just and compassionate in governing their people." An appeal that, many hope, will not fall on deaf ears.
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