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Zimbabwe Christians’ ‘clear message’

16 May 2007

by Judith Melby

CHURCH LEADERS in the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA) are redoubling their efforts to address the country’s social, economic, and political crisis, despite the danger to their own personal safety.

The ZCA, supported by Christian Aid, is a network of Christian organisations formed last year to speak out against human-rights violations.

Jonah Gokova, a co-ordinator of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, says its mission is “to bring about a transformation in our nation through prophetic action”.

It was the ZCA that organised the prayer service on 11 March this year, which resulted in one death and the much-publicised beating of the leader of the opposition MDC party, Morgan Tsvangirai. Scores of people were arrested.

Mr Gokovah said last week: “We have lived in a society for a long time now that has tended to reward political criminals. I think it is time now to reverse that, so that we begin to send a clear message that acts of violence are punishable and are criminal offences.”

Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown is well documented. Inflation is above 2000 per cent; one third of its population has fled the country; and those who remain live in abject poverty. On the black market, one US dollar fetches 30,000 Zimbabwean dollars. (The official bank rate is 250 Zimbabwean dollars.)

Church leaders are particularly concerned that many young people are losing interest in education: why, they ask, should they work towards a job with a worthless salary? Better to do a black-market deal, which in one day can net the equivalent of a month’s salary.

“We are a divided society,” says Mr Gokovah. “As a result, we have become very suspicious of each other. People are finding all kinds of ways of surviving, and that is turning a large number of our people into criminals.”

The director of the ZCA, the Revd Useni Sibanda, says that the crisis has had a big impact on the Church, forcing it to re-examine its theology. “The Church is beginning to ask itself questions it has never asked before.

“What do you do as a church leader if people’s homes are destroyed and they come and stay in your church? What do you do if people are being beaten up outside your home? What kind of a sermon do you prepare to bring hope to a nation that is hopeless?

“This has changed us; changed the way we do things; the way we do church.”

Judith Melby works on the Africa desk at Christian Aid.

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