Zimbabwe Churches try to broker peace in midst of post-election violence

03 August 2018

PA

MDC supporters protest in Harare, on Monday

MDC supporters protest in Harare, on Monday

THE Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) is mediating to resolve tensions in the country after accusations of vote-rigging in the country’s presidential election led to outbreaks of violence.

In the early hours of Friday, President Mnangagwa, the ZANU-PF candidate, was declared the winner of the first election since President Mugabe resigned after 37 years in office (News, 24 November 2017). President Mnangagwa needed 50 per cent to prevent a run-off election and won by 50.8 per cent.

Shortly after his election, President Mnangagwa wrote on Twitter: “Thank you Zimbabwe! I am humbled to be elected President of the Second Republic of Zimbabwe. Though we may have been divided at the polls, we are united in our dreams. This is a new beginning. Let us join hands, in peace, unity and love, and together build a new Zimbabwe for all!”

In the hours after the announcement, however, the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and its candidate Nelson Chamisa, who received 44.3 per cent of the vote, challenged the results.

On Friday morning, he wrote on Twitter: “The ZEC [Zimbabwe Electoral Committee] scandal of releasing unverified fake results is regrettable. ZEC denied our election agent access to results before announcement. ZEC must release proper and verified results endorsed by parties. The level of opaqueness, truth deficiency, moral decay and values deficit is baffling.”

Behind the scenes, the ZCC, which is seen by many observers as the only honest broker in a divided and broken society, has called for a long-table meeting of all parties, under the neutral auspices of the Churches, to deal with Zimbabwe’s deep-rooted problems.

Speaking from Harare on Friday morning, the ZCC’s general secretary, the Revd Dr Kenneth Mtata, said that a mediation process had started at the highest level, “but it has not yet yielded any fruit. It is still early hours and the emotions are quite high.” He went on to say, however, that “there is a willingness to engage”.

He later joined the Bishop of Masvingo, the Rt Revd Godfrey Tawonezvi, and the Archbishop of Central Africa, the Most Revd Albert Chama, for prayer and reflection, before starting to prepare a pastoral response to the situation in Zimbabwe.

The Churches in Zimbabwe continue to receive international support in their efforts. The diocese of Southwark, which has close ties to many Zimbabwe dioceses, posted on Twitter: “Bishop Christopher [Chessun] urges continued prayer for the nation and people of Zimbabwe  for a just and peaceful outcome to the current uncertainty.”

The ZCC’s campaign, iPray, iVote, urged people to vote without violence and to engage in dialogue, despite their different political views. When polling stations closed on Monday night, 70 per cent of registered voters had voted, often queuing for hours to do so. The following day, Dr Mtata expressed thanks for “a very peaceful election”.

As results started to be released on Wednesday, however, violence broke out, with MDC supporters saying that they had been cheated. The army was called in and responded with live ammunition against protesters, killing six people.

Christian Aid, one of many Christian organisations that has been observing the elections, called on Thursday for an independent investigation into the military action and for those responsible to be held to account.

Its governance and human-rights adviser, Grainne Kilcullen, said: “These elections are a historic opportunity for Zimbabwe to turn a new corner towards a political system that respects the democratic process, offers hope to its citizens and promotes economic growth to pull the country out poverty. Yet, although these elections are the first in the post-Mugabe era, there have been widespread concerns about the electoral process and vote-rigging.

“We are strongly urging all sides to place the future of Zimbabwe and a respect for democracy at the centre of their actions, as the credibility of this election hangs in the balance.”

 

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