ON THE anniversary of the military coup in Zimbabwe that paved the way for President Robert Mugabe to resign, and after the first post-Mugabe elections in July this year, a delegation of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) last week handed over a pastoral pronouncement on the 2019 national budget to parliamentarians.
In their statement, “A Moral Voice for a More Caring Economy” — reached after wide-spread grassroots consultations — the delegation submitted “the voice and contributions of member churches in the hope that the 2019 National Budget will do more to advance justice and shared prosperity in Zimbabwe”.
“An unmistakable consensus arose from the consultative processes highlighting an urgent need to reform our economy. Most Zimbabweans want the direction of the economy to change. They want a more caring economy. An economy that delivers prosperity and justice together,” the pastoral statement said.
The ZCC delegation, led by the general-secretary, the Revd Dr Kenneth Mtata, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and accompanied by the Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya, and other clergy, was paying a courtesy visit to parliament and the Speaker of the National Assembly, Jacob Mudenda.
Dr Mtata said that the ZCC and parliament was busy drawing up a Memorandum of Understanding that will include an ecumenical parliamentary liaison office to enable the ZCC “to contribute to the upcoming reforms” and have a watchdog position. During the July 2018 national elections, the ZCC brought in international church observers to assist church workers in trying to assure free and fair elections.
Mr Mudenda said after the meeting: “Where we would want the Church to come on board is on national consensus building. The Church is in a privileged position because within it there are members of diverse cultures, diverse languages, background, diverse political persuasion.
“So, the Church becomes really a melting pot on national consensus building. If we are united in worship, let us use that experience to be united outside the Church through political tolerance.”
The four-page pronouncement, which is guided by the Biblical quote “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute” (Psalm 82.3), followed a fortnight of consultations with a thousand people in 42 areas, in all ten provinces of the country.
On 13 November, a pre-budget economists’ dialogue on the 2019 National Budget was held by the ZCC and the Zimbabwe Economic Policy Analysis and Research Unit in Harare. The meeting was attended by economists from research organisations, academia, industry, development fraternity, and the church community.
The pronouncement also drew on the experience of “the member Churches and church leaders’ daily work in ministering to a large and increasing number of poor, marginalised, and struggling families and individuals”.
Bishop Gandiya said after the meeting that the ZCC would strive “to ensure Zimbabweans live a prosperous life in peace and respect of diversity without fear so that people can celebrate justice delivery.”
The pronouncement called for a Comprehensive National Economic Vision: “Lack of a shared national vision has rendered Zimbabwe a country not a nation and policies have been short-sighted.
“A holistic approach is encouraged to address the challenges of national fragmentation, fragile constitutional democracy and economic fragility. Zimbabwe needs to collectively develop a shared comprehensive and inclusive national economic vision that holistically address issues of the economy, the environment, industrialization, skills and technological developments, decent and dignity of work and property ownership among many other issues,” it concluded.
Zimbabwe is a predominantly Christian country: 85 per cent of the population is Christian; the Churches, therefore, play an influential part in society.
It is a country in which the Churches and clergy took sides in the war for liberation. After liberation in 1980, the divisive narrative followed by Mr Mugabe and his supporters in the later years of his rule also spilled over to the Churches, and was most painfully felt by Anglicans when it split the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe between the internationally recognised Church of the Province of Central Africa, led by Bishop Gandiya, and a breakaway organisation led by the pro-ZANU PF Nolbert Kunonga, then Bishop of Harare.
Since returning to Zimbabwe in late 2016, to lead the ZCC, and, giving up a high-profile job with the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva, Dr Mtata has been trying to steer the Churches away from taking sides in daily politics, to taking up the position as mediators in their own communities, as well as on a national level, and to be the voice of the people in an attempt to try to heal a society broken by decades of, first, colonial and then post-colonial strife. It has at times been a tight-rope position for the Churches.
In early August, after accusations of vote-rigging in the country’s presidential election led to outbreaks of violence, the ZCC mediated with politicians to resolve tensions in the country
Mr Mudenda told the church leaders: “The question is, how do you heal the nation, which are the wounds of disunity. I appeal to the Church to be bold enough to accost the political leadership of different political persuasion.”
“Bring us together so that, as politicians, we come to some maturity where our political differences should not be a reason of hatred and disharmony,” he urged the ZCC.
Dr Mtata said that he was confident that the process being set up by the ZCC with parliament “will influence the budget process”.
There are many critical voices in society who feel that too little has been achieved in the past year. Writing on Twitter on 18 November, the democratic activist Pastor Evan Mararire from #ThisFlag movement said: “1 year ago . . . I will NEVER regret standing with my countrymen. Yes little has changed outside us, however much has changed inside us. Today we stand up more & speak up more. We reignited in each other a hope that cannot be extinguished, the march will never end.”