Churches speak out against violence

mugabe_bobHARARE Zimbabwean church leaders have condemned the escalation in political violence ahead of possible elections this year amid rising tension between President Robert Mugabes ZANU-PF and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirais MDC-T party, which threatens their tenuous power-sharing government. (Pictured: Robert Mugabe)

Political analysts warn that Zimbabwe risks sliding back into crisis with Mugabes election plans. In a pastoral statement, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference and Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe urged political leaders to “reflect deeply” and work to resolve outstanding political agreements before holding elections.

Churches are concerned about reports of politically motivated violence in the provinces of Mashonaland, Masvingo, Manicaland and Harare caused by the revival of the structures that perpetrated violence in the run-up to the 2008 Presidential elections, the church groups said.

Mugabe is fighting to have elections this year, which ZANU-PF is confident it will win after the partys loss to the MDC in 2008. The 87-year-old leader was forced into a unity government with Tsvangirai after a flawed run-off vote but two years down the line ZANU-PF says it now wants to go it alone. The MDC has warned that a rushed election will lead to violence.

The churches said they had witnessed a lack of impartiality by police and security forces countrywide and reported a surge in threats and intimidation and a revival of the deployment of militias and other groups that perpetrated the 2008 violence.

On Saturday police beat up MDC members who had gathered at the party headquarters for elections to restructure the party ahead of its May congress. The MDC says Mugabe continued to use state security agents to cling to power. Police have banned three consecutive rallies which Tsvangirai planned to address, saying the venues had been booked by ZANU-PF, although Harare city council officials say Mugabes party had not booked the venues.

The churches are worried by the slow pace of national healing that was meant to end the trauma of past political violence and said political leaders needed to do more than the occasional of violence. The church is concerned about lack of a clear national framework on the healing and reconciliation process which is a critical component of this transitional period, the churches said in statement signed by their leaders.

As political tensions rise, the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation has stepped up its attacks on the Tsvangirai and the MDC, in what the former opposition party says is a propaganda drive by the state broadcaster. The churches said inflammatory language reported in the state media had also contributed to violence and undermined efforts on national healing.

Leaders of the Southern African Development community should do more to resolve outstanding disputes over power-sharing before the next election, the churches said. The churches however said they would hold prayer vigils for peace and proposed the eventual formation of an independent truth, justice and reconciliation commission to deal with “truth telling, acknowledgement of past wrongs and restorative and transitional justice issues”.

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