Life in Zimbabwe deteriorates ‘beyond description’

by
26 June 2008

by Pat Ashworth

Weighing up: a Zimbabwean woman reads President Mugabe’s campaign material, at a rally in Banket, 100 km west of Harare, on Tuesday AP

Weighing up: a Zimbabwean woman reads President Mugabe’s campaign material, at a rally in Banket, 100 km west of Harare, on Tuesday AP

THE SITUATION in Zimbabwe is “beyond description”, the Bishop of Harare, Dr Sebastian Bakare, reported from the city on Tuesday.

But he confirmed that, as the number of casualties was increasing daily, people could only be happy that the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had pulled out of the run-off election, which is scheduled to take place today.

The Bishop was also encouraged by the position the South African government was beginning to take. “They have been shielding Mugabe for a long time. But now it’s come to this, there’s hope that South Africa will do what it can to influence the situation.”

The former Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Desmond Tutu, told the BBC’s Newsnight programme on Monday that he, too, was “feeling a little better” about the reactions of African leaders. They must send a concerted message that they would not recognise President Mugabe or his administration, he said. “That would be a very powerful and cogent thing to have done.”

Anglican eyewitnesses in Harare report the political situation as having deteriorated out of all knowledge. One writes: “Members of the opposition are no longer just at risk of beating, but at risk of their lives.” She goes on to describe the nightmare that is everyday life for the poorest in particular.

“At night, the Zanu-PF youth either call people to Pungwes [all night sessions of re-education], or they march about the township shouting. Any youths they find are told to join them, on pain of a beating. On one night, it was estimated that 800 youths were involved. Some obviously stay with them because they are fed.

“The food is taken from the people. If your home is selected for a donation, you must either give them $10 billion, or 10kg of maize meal, or you are beaten. In the better-off townships, this is going on, but on a smaller scale. They seem to target the poorest of the poor. Presumably, as food gets shorter and shorter, they must move into the low-density suburbs.”

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Bishop Bakare said that food was becoming an even more serious issue, as people driven from the rural areas sought refuge in the cities. “We’re trying to do what we can to identify those people and give them the little we can from some organisations that are willing to give us some food. Otherwise, that is a very serious problem we are facing now,” he said.

“A lot of them have wounds — we have no medicine, and wounds have not been attended to. They must wait for natural healing — you can imagine what that means. I think God will provide, but at the moment they are experiencing a lot of suffering.”

He continued: “We have to be optimistic. We don’t know what is going to happen on Friday, though we know people are going to be forced to go to the polling stations. Mugabe might be elected by 99.9 per cent, but that is immaterial: he hasn’t got a majority in parliament.”

The Aegis Trust, an independent organisation dedicated to eliminating genocide, was among many this week calling on the international community and Zimbabwe’s immediate neighbours to demand that it immediately lift restrictions on direct food aid to the population, regardless of political affiliation.

The organisation’s chief executive, David Smith, warned on Monday: “The MDC may not be able to contain the frustration felt by Zimbabwe’s cheated electorate. In the absence of avenues for democratic choice, there is a significant possibility that armed opposition to the Mugabe regime will emerge. If it does, the regime may respond as it did in Matabeleland in the early ’80s, tipping the country into full-blown politicide — politically motivated mass murder. This time, however, the bloodbath could be nationwide.”

A joint letter from the World Council of Churches and the World Student Christian Federation has called on the UN, the Southern African Development Community, and the African Union to intervene over the food crisis. Zimbabweans face “the imminent threat of starvation in some areas”, the letter says. It also requests the three bodies pay “urgent attention to the humanitarian needs of the people of Zimbabwe, their freedom to exercise religion, the destabilisation of the political situation and the need to end human rights abuses”.

The Barnabas Fund was able to report this week that its feeding programme was unaffected by the ban on food aid imposed on 5 June. “We are not functioning as an official aid agency within the country, but rather through the courageous and discreet work of individual Christians and churches, so our feeding programme can continue unhindered,” a statement said. The Fund has provided 60 tonnes of food since February to 2000 of the neediest Christian families in the country.

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The Council of Zimbabwean Christian Leaders in the UK is to hold a prayer rally tomorrow at the Geoffrey Chaucer Technology College in London. Participants include Zimbabwean Christian leaders and the Revd Joel Edwards, director of the Evangelical Alliance.

Throughout the crisis, Anglicans in Harare continue to battle for the right to worship in their own church buildings. Dr Bakare returned on Tuesday from taking the funeral of the wife of a senior priest in his diocese. He had been turned away by riot police from the church at Mbare; so he held the funeral service in a private house instead. With the coffin in procession, he was refused access to the diocesan cemetery by the deposed former Bishop, Nolbert Kunonga.

He described the day as “very challenging. Kunonga was not prepared to allow us to bury this lady. It was very embarrassing. I can’t say more. I told him, this is our cemetery. You cannot allow us not to bury our dead. It was terrible. This priest has served the diocese for more than 40 years, and that was what we had to experience in bidding farewell to his wife.”

But Kunonga’s power was running out, Dr Bakare said. “He has been using the police to frighten people, but the police are fed up: they don’t care for him now. All he can do now is exert psychological pressure. He’s on his way out.

“Our people are not giving up, and our congregations are growing bigger and bigger. We feel we have the upper hand spiritually, and, whatever Kunonga is doing, he hasn’t got the people behind him.”

Dr Bakare said that, while he is coming to the Lambeth Conference, “My heart will be in Zimbabwe. But this is God’s Church, and God will take care of these people. My presence doesn’t make a big difference. I’m coming to Lambeth in order to be inspired to carry on with this mission we find ourselves in in Zimbabwe.”

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