Dr Sentamu: cut up clerical collar has a lesson for the new President of Zimbabwe

26 November 2017

Promise kept: Dr Sentamu put on a clerical collar for the first time in ten years, on Sunday, during an interview with Andrew Marr

Promise kept: Dr Sentamu put on a clerical collar for the first time in ten years, on Sunday, during an interview with Andrew Marr

THE Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, put on a clerical collar on Sunday, ten years after pledging not to do so until Robert Mugabe relinquished his hold on Zimbabwe (News, 13 December 2007).

Opting to don a fresh clerical collar rather than glue together the pieces of the one that he cut up on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on 9 December 2007, was symbolic, he said. “I think the lesson for Zimbabwe is the same: they just can’t try and stitch it up. Something more radical, something new, needs to happen.”

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former Vice-President who earned the nickname “the Crocodile”, was sworn in last Friday. On the eve of his inauguration, he advised Zimbabweans to “let bygones be bygones”.

While putting on his new clerical collar in front of Mr Marr on Sunday, Dr Sentamu had cautionary words for Mr Mugabe’s successor, who “has got to remember something more new than [that] just simply stitching up a thing will work”.

The new President was “implicated into a lot of other stuff”, he said. “He’s been denying, for example, the Gukurahundi massacres in Matebeleland, in Manicaland. He was a minister of security, and also he was in charge of the central intelligence organisation.”

Up to 20,000 mainly Ndebele civilians were killed by the Zimbabwe National Army in these massacres in the early 1980s, as part of a crackdown against supporters of the rival ZAPU party.

“The answer for me, and for him, is not simply what he said: ‘Let bygones be bygones,’ because for people in Matebeleland and Manicaland, who lost 20,000 people, it is as if it happened yesterday,” Dr Sentamu said. He went on to suggest the adoption of a truth and reconciliation commission, such as that used in post-apartheid South Africa.

“I’m a man of faith,” he continued. “I’m a strong believer in hope, and, therefore, I am a strong believer people can change. It’s quite possible that Emmerson Mnangagwa could actually be a very, very good president. But he can’t simply bury the past. It won’t go away.”

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Writing in The Observer in 2008, Dr Sentamu called on the international community to remove Mr Mugabe from power and put him on trial at the Hague. He described a “broken land where its people die from eating anthrax-infected cattle or from starvation”. Both Mr Mugabe and his wife, Grace, have been granted immunity from prosecution, and the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who was once tortured by police after trying to attend a prayer meeting, has suggested that his old opponent should be allowed to “go in grace”.

Asked whether Mr Mugabe should be forgiven, Dr Sentamu replied: “It’s not for me. He never killed any of my relations. At the time, the crimes were so raw and so important.” In South Africa, people had been able to say sorry. “Mugabe, at some point, needs to say to the people of Zimbabwe: ‘37 years, I took on a country which was fantastic, and I nearly took you to ruin. Zimbabweans, forgive me.’”

Mugabe was “a very, very intelligent man,” he said. “And, actually, I think he is capable of doing it.” Referring to the former President’s suggestion that “We must learn to forgive,” which was made in the days before his resignation, Dr Sentamu suggested that Mr Mugabe must also ask for forgiveness. If he did so, “I am quite sure Zimbabweans probably will do it.”

While cutting up his collar, ten years ago, he told Mr Marr that Mugabe had “taken people’s identity and literally, if you don’t mind, cut it to pieces”. On Sunday, he said that he had not been able to sleep in the days leading up to Mr Mugabe’s resignation, and had heard a voice instructing him to light two candles, with the promise that the President would be gone by the time the second had burned out. It flickered out on 21 November.

Not wearing a collar had prompted him to remember Zimbabwe every morning, he said, and it meant that Christians were “galvanised to be praying for Zimbabweans. . . But hope can take a long time.”

Quoting a friend, the American pastor and civil-rights activist Jim Wallis, Dr Sentamu said: “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching that evidence change. We just watched that evidence change.”

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