The Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) read with grave concern, the governments response to the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) pastoral letter of the 14th of August 2020 entitled “The March is not Ended”. The government response presented by Mrs Monica Mutsvangwa, the Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, revealed the following worrying signs:
- Responsibility: While the churches, including the ZCBC, have consistently identified the partial negative contribution of natural disasters and international isolation to government’s economic performance, it has however noted with grave concern that, the Government of Zimbabwe consistently takes no responsibility for its own failings characterized by corruption, policy inconsistencies and above all, failure to unite the nation towards a common vision. The denialism that characterizes the Government of Zimbabwe’s handling of criticism has now become a deeply worrying trend. The blame-shifting labelling of critical voices as ‘regime change agents’, and recently ‘terrorists’ smacks of the government’s unwillingness or inability to engage on the basis of ideas as well as robbing citizens of any hope that things can improve.
- Personalization: Pastoral letters, including the “The March is not Ended”, are products of prayerful discernment by the college of bishops informed by compassionate listening to the experiences of the congregants. Singling out the Most Revd Archbishop Richard Ndlovu, can only be viewed as undermining the most important asset and character of the church that is its Unity. Our humble interpretation is that this is meant to isolate individuals from a collective discernment process with the sinister aim of diluting the collective voice of the church. The ZCC takes with exception any efforts to interfere with the unity of the Church for which Jesus prayed in John 17:21.
- Courtesy: The government response was overtly too emotional and disrespectful for formal communication. Using public media to utter disrespectful communication against the person of Archbishop Ndlovu does not only present the government as inappropriately deploying the resources of the state, but also increases the toxicity that is already characterizing our public space. If the government had strong objections to the Bishops’ communication, it could have addressed those issues without appearing to be discourteous to the viewers of the only national television station. The government will do well through its public officials to instil positive engagement on the basis of ideas rather than to use public media to buttress negativity.
- Unity: The government response to the pastoral letter “The March is not Ended”, also missed its unifying and national orientation but instead appropriated distorted historical links and false comparisons with the Rwandan genocide. While the comparisons are unfounded and outrageous, they also seem to be intentionally or unintentionally stoking ethnic and tribal divisions which actually resulted in loss of thousands of lives in Matabeleland and Midlands during the Gukurahundi. To frivolously associate the bishops’ statement with such a major deep scar in the history of the nation, is not only insensitive to the existing present pain of those affected by Gukurahundi, but also gives the impression that the government is paying lip-service to national healing and reconciliation. The government statement could have been worth ignoring if it was only falsifying history, but it cannot be ignored as it appears dismissive of the invaluable work done by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, under the ZCBC, to offer documentation of the atrocities committed by the army during that dark period. The legacy of Gukurahundi still stalks the nation as those past hurts remain unhealed. His Excellency, President ED Mnangagwa has on several occasions spoken of the need to find healing on these past hurts, yet the government position gives the false impression that the 1987 Unity Accord brought closure to that episode.
- History: The ecumenical churches’ relationship with the state has been consistent from colonial Rhodesia to independent Zimbabwe. The government response presented by Minister Mutsvangwa, seeks to create false discontinuity between the contemporary bishops and the suffering servants of the past. Such a view misses the importance of continuity of Tradition within Christian theology and practice. The consistency with which the ZCBC and the ecumenical church have pursued justice, peace and unity cannot be forgotten. Coincidentally, the issues raised by the “The March is not Ended” of the 14th of August 2020 are fundamentally similar to calls by Bishop Donal Raymond Lamont in his Open letter to the Rhodesian Government on the 11th of August 1976. In both cases, the message was well-meaning and consistent with the prophetic traditions of Micah, Amos, Jeremiah, John the Baptist and even our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who have responded to this salvation history with repentance found life. Those who rejected it suffered destruction, not only in a spiritual sense but also materially.
- In light of the issues raised above, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches:
6.1 Seeks to affirm its solidarity with the spirit and intent of the “The March is not Ended” as honest communication aimed at calling the government of Zimbabwe to meaningful and respectful engagement to find solutions to the current pressing issues;
6.2 Seeks to enter into a collective discernment process to understand this government’s preparedness to engage and hence calls for the urgent convening of the National Episcopal Conference of the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations to deliberate on the state of the nation and agree on the appropriate ecumenical action;
6.3 Calls on all Christians and churches to pray for peace, well-being and courage for Archbishop Ndlovu, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the broad Christian Church in Zimbabwe as they will be demanded to exercise their prophetic and pastoral mandate for the nation;
6.4 Calls on all citizens to remain united across the denominational, ethnic, and political divide realizing that only through active, organized and peaceful citizens’ participation, the nation will be totally transformed;
6.5 Calls upon President ED Mnangagwa to provide leadership by retracting the personal attacks on Archbishop Ndhlovu and the church leaders, but invite the nation to an inclusive national dialogue towards a home grown solution to the challenges that are facing the nation
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