The real situation in Zimbabwe

by
02 May 2007

Zimbabweans are going hungry, and the bishops act behind the scenes, says Nick Baines

At the well: many places in Zimbabwe now have water-supply problems

At the well: many places in Zimbabwe now have water-supply problems

“You see us walking, but we are dead already.” That was the stark statement made to us by a priest in the diocese of Central Zimbabwe two weeks ago. I led a group of 20 people from the Croydon episcopal area of the diocese of Southwark to spend two weeks in April with our link diocese (News, 27 April). The purpose was to share with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to learn how best we could develop our link for mutual benefit. Of course, we were also keen to see the reality of Zimbabwe and judge for ourselves.

The situation is catastrophic. Inflation is well above 3000 per cent, and rising, which makes any planning impossible. The official exchange rate is Z$250 to US$1; but the parallel rate (on which prices are based) is Z$16,000 to US$1.

Nothing has been repaired for years, and the country’s infrastructure is collapsing. In Gweru, the administrative centre of the Midlands Province, we were without water for our last five days. In Kadoma, where I preached and presided on 22 April, there has been no running water for two months, and no fuel for three months. People are boiling untreated water.

We saw signs of malnutrition in children, and adults suffering from hunger fatigue. Many of the people we stayed with are normally eating what is called “zero one zero” —

no breakfast, a basic lunch, and nothing in the evening. This year’s drought has affected the maize crop, and exacerbated the lack of food (necessitating imports from Zam-

bia and Malawi). Electricity cuts happen randomly, without any warning; they can last for days or hours. HIV/AIDS is ravaging the population.

There are those who will say that we have been victims of propaganda. But the truth is that we have seen all this with our own eyes and heard the stories with our own ears. Our group was dispersed and staying with ordinary people in a variety of places. You don’t need media or propaganda to see what is going on.

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Given this dire situation, which the Mugabe regime blames on everyone except itself, why does the Anglican Church appear to be silent? In contrast with the recent Pastoral Letter from the Roman Catholic bishops, which called for an end to bad governance and corrupt leadership, the statement issued after the (Anglican) Episcopal Synod of the Province of Central Africa, held in Harare on 12 April, appears typically bland and timid. That is how it has been caricatured in the world’s media. I think, however, that to say this would be to miss the point.

The Anglican province is led by the Archbishop of Central Africa, the Most Revd Bernard Malango, a man who parades through the world as a theological conservative in matters of sexual ethics, while supporting the Mugabe-backed Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Nolbert Kunonga. Archbishop Malango has never explained why the 38 charges against Bishop Kunonga (including financial fraud and incitement to murder) were summarily dropped “for ever” (News, 7 July 2006).

Bishop Kunonga, whose behaviour has been criticised elsewhere, makes it impossible for the Anglican bishops in Zimbabwe to speak with one voice. The only voice that will be heard and reproduced by the Zimbabwean official media is that of Bishop Kunonga. This means that the other bishops keep silent publicly, while doing their business on the ground with their people. Their priests understand this.

Archbishop Malango has now announced that he is to retire at the end of this year. There is no doubt that Bishop Kunonga would like to replace him. But it is equally unlikely that he will get the requisite two-thirds majority from the bishops. It is doubtful whether he could get a majority in Zimbabwe itself, if Zimbabwe were to form a separate province.

But Bishop Kunonga is not to be underestimated: he could be creative in engineering a situation that would give him what he wants. So there is a danger in isolating him at this point. He will be isolated enough when President Mugabe falls, and those who have benefited from his patronage find their corruption exposed.

IN THIS context, it can be seen that the statement by the bishops of the province is sharper than it appears at first. Sanctions are not said to be the cause of Zimbabwe’s economic woes, but merely to have exacerbated them. The statement denounces violence, and demands a “culture of governance that respects the sanctity of life”.

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It goes on to “rebuke and warn . . . especially those in positions of authority through a prophetic ministry”. It states: “We want to make it unequivocally clear to all of our people that we do not condone what is happening in Zimbabwe.” Surprisingly, even Bishop Kunonga signed this.

This point was made by the Bishop of Botswana, the Rt Revd Trevor Mwamba. The statement was able to command the signatures of all the bishops in the province, while making unequivocal calls for radical change in Zimbabwe. Let the reader understand. It is not the reader’s head that is on the block when it comes to making heroic statements from a distance.

There must be radical change in Zimbabwe, and it must come soon. These wonderful, hospitable, generous people deserve better than they have at present. But the rebuilding will demand more than money and engineering. It will need a massive dose of mercy and grace to avoid internal conflict and to build a new future.

The Rt Revd Nick Baines is Bishop of Croydon.

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