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Let righteousness flow

04 July 2014

Pat Ashworth reads a passionate book about corruption and hope in Zimbabwe

When Governments Stumble: Lessons from Zimbabwe's past and hope in Africa's future
Ben Freeth
Monarch £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10 (Use code CT834 )

BEN FREETH, a British-born Zimbabwean, took President Robert Mugabe to an international tribunal in 2008 and won the right for his father-in-law, Mike Campbell, not to be evicted from his farm. Torture and abduction followed for the family, and Mr Campbell's eventual death. Freeth, who narrowly escaped death and whose own productive farm now lies waste, urges Christians in this coherent and passionately argued book to follow their calling to stand up to tyrants.

He charts the tragic failure of the wider Christian Church to stand against Nazi injustice, and acknowledges that the Church in Zimbabwe has not been vocal, either, in condemning the injustices committed by the authorities. Key perpetrators, such as the Commissioner of Police, declare themselves born-again Christians; President Mugabe dons white robes and goes to mass; and the Reserve Bank Governor "laces his statements with biblical quotes".

The chapter "How nations become poor and hungry" is key. It takes the land question by the scruff of the neck and shakes it, with a passionate, Bible-backed defence of property ownership and good stewardship: "Primarily because nearly all African governments in sub-Saharan Africa have traditionally denied their people proper land ownership and production systems, Africa is producing less than ten per cent of what it could be producing if property rights were properly established."

Freeth identifies fear as the single biggest factor that allows tyranny to continue and that, together with a latent passivity, has replaced the sense of outrage in Zimbabwe.

In analysing fears and the biblical response to them, he writes with clarity and humility of the freedom he experienced in feeling, as he himself was being beaten and tortured, "an overwhelming,godly love for these people who were doing such terrible things to us".

There is hope, he concludes: godly people from Daniel to Dietrich Bonhoeffer have overcome fear and spoken truth to power, and individual Christians have led the way throughout history. But, as targeted sanctions are lifted against almost all those involved in gross human-rights abuses in Zimbabwe, he warns: "There appears to be a concerted effort from many in the international corridors of power to whitewash the paramount principles of truth and justice and to re-engage with Mugabe."

This is a fine, brave book that teaches, encourages, and convicts. It mustn't be ignored.

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