CHURCHES in Zimbabwe have spoken with hope about “the birth of a new nation”, after military action on Wednesday appeared to curtail the rein of President Robert Mugabe.
In a statement issued on Wednesday afternoon, the Zimbabwean Council of Churches said: “We see the current situation not just as a crisis in which we are helpless. We see the current arrangement as an opportunity for the birth of a new nation. Our God created everything out of chaos, and we believe something new could emerge out of our situation.”
In the hours that followed the military intervention, the general secretary of the Zimbabwean Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Kenneth Mtata, called on all political and civil actors to rebuild a broken society.
Dr Mtata, a Lutheran pastor, said from Harare on Wednesday: “The current situation was inevitable. We had reached a point of no return. Our politics of attrition and toxic public engagement has had its logical conclusion.
“Our hope is that we can put back the train on the rails of democracy and citizenship engagement. We hope the current situation is only a transition to something that will be participatory and just.”
The military intervention came in the early hours of Wednesday, when the Zimbabwean Defence Forces turned on President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the country for 37 years — since independence from the UK in April 1980 — together with the former liberation movement the ZANU PF (Zimbabwe African National Union — Patriotic Front) Party.
An army spokesman insisted on television that this was not a military takeover, and that President Mugabe was safe. The army’s action had been against criminal elements around the president, he said.
“Zimbabwe is a fragmented society,” Dr Mtata said, “as a result of the failure to deal with the hurts of the past, and the failure of the political system to provide a conducive environment for everyone to have an opportunity. The selfish system of patronage has made politicians lose a national focus.”
Zimbabwe is a predominantly Christian country: 85 per cent of the population are Christian. The ailing President Mugabe prides himself on his Roman Catholicism and the influence of his Jesuit education. He grew up at a Jesuit mission station in the south of the country. Church schools and missionary hospitals have shaped the Zimbabwean education system and health system for more than a century.
However, the divisive narrative followed by President Mugabe and his supporters in the later years of his rule also spilled over to the Churches, and split the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe between the internationally recognised Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA), led by Bishop Chad Gandiya, and a breakaway organisation led by the pro-ZANU PF Nolbert Kunonga, then Bishop of Harare.
After 2000, it led to the seizure of church properties and violence against clergy belonging to the CPCA, although Mr Kunonga was stripped of his holy orders in 2008, and, in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that his group must surrender all property belonging to it (News, 30 November 2012).
Asked what part the Churches could now play, Dr Mtata said: “The Church needs to draw from its own resources of Christian ecumenical heritage of unity in diversity. In this understanding, we learn to appreciate living with difference but also working for broader common good.”
He went on: “[The Church] needs to be the place where these visions are proclaimed and demonstrated. The Churches need to continue calling on different actors that another Zimbabwe is possible.”
In neighbouring South Africa, the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, said: “Our prayer, which the Archbishop of Canterbury shares, is for peaceful transitions anywhere in the world.”
Archbishop Welby posted a message on Facebook, on Thursday: “In recent days I have been following events in Zimbabwe closely and praying intensely for a peaceful solution to this situation. I am praying for the whole nation of Zimbabwe — its people, its military, its political leaders — that they may find a path forward that leads to the flourishing of this nation and all its people.
“To the Church in Zimbabwe: your brothers and sisters around the Anglican Communion stand with you in prayer, solidarity and hope. Your faith, courage and persistence in the face of difficult times has long been an example to the world. May God strengthen, protect and guide you as you seek to bear witness to the love of Christ at this deeply challenging time.
“The Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations have called for prayer for the nation, for calm and peace, and for respect of human dignity. To Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, I pray that these calls are heard in the coming days, weeks and months.”
The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, sent a message on Twitter: “Pray earnestly, especially for our link dioceses in Zimbabwe, for the Church, her clergy and people, for our brother bishops. Cleophas, Ishmael, Erick, Godfrey, and also Chad”. And the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, posted on Twitter: “Please pray for Zimbabwe, especially for Bishop Chad, and Rochester’s partner diocese of Harare.”