Prayers for Peace stir hope

Last Saturday the Zimbabwe National Pastors’ Conference convened a National Prayer for Peace Day at Mkoba stadium in Gweru, attracting close to 15 000 participants. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai addressed the prayer meeting on behalf of the Inclusive Government. Similar meetings were held in Chitungwiza, Masvingo and Mutare and there are plans to do the same in Bulawayo and Harare later this month.

Morgan Tsvanirai
Morgan Tsvanirai

Tsvangirai echoed President Robert Mugabe’s Independence Day message of peace and urged people to ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ It is commendable that both leaders have verbally committed themselves to promoting peace, but it is not enough. To banish the ugly culture of violence that has characterized our politics for the last decade, it is necessary to cultivate a culture of openness where people from all walks of life, particularly grassroots communities, are able to publicly denounce violence without fear.

Violence and fear are the twin plagues that must be confronted from a non-partisan platform best provided by the churches. Churches have been blamed for promoting a spirit of docility and uncommon submissiveness in the face of extreme oppression that Zimbabweans have suffered in the last three decades, but perhaps it will be the churches that will lead in rallying people to promote peace as a confidence-building measure that will ultimately contribute to the removal of violence and fear.

Political leaders must direct state institutions responsible for the maintenance of peace, law and order to act impartially, professionally and independently in the discharge of their duties.

The message must ring loud and clear that violence does not pay, but rather, that there is a high price to pay for committing violence or other human rights abuses. Political activists or state agents who commit violence, or political leaders who urge or conspire to commit violence must face the full wrath of the law.

The recent conviction of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague is a telling example.

There has been easy resort to violence by political activists to achieve political ends primarily because the police had generally abdicated on their responsibility to ensure personal security for Zimbabweans regardless of political affiliation as exemplified by the hundreds of cases of violence committed around the 2008 elections that have largely gone unpunished because of partisan policing.

But as the ICC’s action against Taylor has shown, where domestic justice remedies have failed, there are international instruments that can be effectively used to achieve justice. The merchants of violence, chaos and confusion, although vocal, are now few in numbers – they are overwhelmi- ngly outnumbered by peace-loving, law-abiding and kind Zimbabweans. The small challenge is for the majority of peace loving Zimbabweans to stand up and be counted.

The more people speak out for peace, the less the fear of victimi zation and the higher the chances that even more people will join to take charge of their lives by taking part in various peace initiatives in their communities.

As the draft constitution is getting ready for further debate within communities people must come out and speak freely about the need to promote peace, basic freedoms and personal security and to have those values reflected in the new constitution. – Dewa Mavhinga, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Regional Coordinator.

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