Is this the Zimbabwe we want?

Remarkably, the Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Council of Churches and the Evangelical Fellowship produced the discussion document "The Zimbabwe We Want" jointly. The 42-page document gives us its "vision for Zimbabwe" in Biblical terms and in terms of Christian Social Teaching, it speaks about d

emocracy and human rights, about having our own constitution and the need for consensus, the separation of powers and the rule of law, participation and tolerance, about the value of human life and the stewardship of creation, about the preferential option for the poor and the care for the marginalised.
But the devil is in the detail. The general principles have to be applied to our concrete situation. The authors demand justice for the poor, but let government get away with its fraudulent claim that it is making “efforts to build decent houses for those who had been displaced by Murambatsvina in an operation called Garikayi/Hlalani Kuhle” (7.2.4).
They say “the separation of powers and checks and balances” (4.3.3) is fundamental for our constitution, but fail to state openly that the excessive powers of the executive president are the root cause of our political and economic crisis.
The document sings the praises of democracy, but fails to spell out that the Electoral Commission must be a body independent of government and ruling party.
The prime evil of Zimbabwe is the concentration of too much power in the hands of very few. There is no “impartiality” as long as the power to set up this crucial commission is in the hands of one man.
Zimbabwe is defined as “unity-in-diversity”. Diversity includes “political differences” (3.2.2). Fine. But there is no mention anywhere that this country came off to a false start when it functioned for a long time as a ‘one-party-state’ and is still doing so in the mind of the ruling party.
The document goes along with government in calling the Land Question “the single most emotive subject in our nation” (6.1). A whole section of eight pages is devoted to it, plus references elsewhere. It adopts the government phrase “the restoration of the land to its rightful owners”. This implies that whites are not ‘rightful owners’ whereas blacks are. “The agrarian structure before independence was highly inequitable, largely along racial lines” (6.1). True. And now after land redistribution? Are we not still trapped in thinking and acting “along racial lines”?
Most European farmers bought the land. They cannot be held responsible for the sins of their forefathers. They have contributed to the common good by productivity, by paying taxes and providing employment. There should be a set of rules on how land should be used which bind both white and black, for the common good. Just taking it away from whites and giving it to blacks – any blacks – does not solve anything.
But this does not make land reform impossible. Quite to the contrary. In Christian thinking, as the document rightly points out, “land is a gift from God”(6.1). It is given to all of us, not just to individuals. Ownership of land is not absolute. It entails social obligations which includes sharing it with the landless.
The preoccupation both of government and this document with land is somewhat lopsided. There is no mention of mining and industrial manufacturing, little is said about urban unemployment, informal trade, the brain drain and the exodus of so many, nothing about the urban housing crisis.
This document, like government, sounds as if we wanted to remain just agriculturalists for ever. What about industrialization?
Was government really driven by the ‘hunger and thirst’ for justice when it unleashed the violent occupation of farms as the church leaders seem to assume? Was it not all part of the patronage system which buys the ruling party popular support by granting favours to the voters, in this case giving them pieces of land?
When the churches talk to government about land reform are they talking about the same thing? There cannot be dialogue unless they make sure they do.
“In redistributing land the government was at last doing the right thing which was long overdue, but regrettably it was done in a haphazard manner” (1.2.7). Why give praise to government for doing the right thing in the wrong way? Doing the right thing in the wrong way is not half right and half wrong. It is simply wrong. Government, of course, is craving the approval of the churches for its disastrous land policy. The Church has spoken out on the land issue many times (see Fr Walter Nyatsanza, The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops on the Land Issue, 1959 – 2002). “Productive agricultural land a most precious asset which should be put to the best possible use for the benefit of one’s family, nation and even the neighbouring countries” (no. 7, Solidarity and Service, ZCBC 1989). Unfortunately, land became a political football.
The central issue is not land, but governance and respect for the rule of law. Once you have good governance and respect for the law questions like land, and others like it, will be resolved. We need to overcome corruption, have a proper legal system and strive for the common good, not the advantage of merely one party.
The section on National Reconciliation says about the Media in only one sentence, “Our media is polarized and is not always helping our national unity” (7.2.5). POSA and AIPPA are called “contested legislation” (4.3.4), but are not clearly denounced as bad law. The fact is that most of the print media and all electronic media (radio, TV) are government controlled. You cannot put the blame for “polarization”on the small and harassed independent media as much as on the huge and powerful government media. Unless there is a truly free media we will not be able to have the national debate the churches are calling for in this document.
We need a free debate on a constitution that cuts power down to size, we need to prepare for our second liberation and lay the foundation for a new Zimbabwe. – In Touch Jesuit Communications

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