CHURCHES and faith communities under the umbrella of the Zimbabwean Council of Churches (ZCC) have campaigned during the past few months in an effort to ensure that peace prevailed in the run-up to, and during, the national elections in Zimbabwe on Monday.
An outbreak of violence in the capital Harare on Wednesday, however, suggested that there was more to do to heal this “broken” society, in which the Churches have become a trusted player.
As dusk fell in Harare after a day of violence following the election results, the general-secretary of the ZCC Revd Dr. Kenneth Mtata took to Facebook and Twitter in a video message saying that the problems of Zimbabwe were deep-rooted and suggesting a long table under the neutral auspices of the churches where all parties can sit and discuss after the elections to solve the deep-rooted problems of the country:
“The last few weeks made all of us proud as Zimbabweans that we could run an election that is violent free. Our short-lived excitement has been shattered today because of the violence that we saw in the streets of Harare. What we learn from this incident is that elections alone are not a solution to the deep-seated challenges that bedevil our land.There are many issues that require more comprehensive solutions than simply choosing between men and women who aspire to occupy positions of leadership.”
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”.
Early on Wednesday, a World Council of Churches (WCC) observer, the Revd Dr Andrew Williams, from the Uniting Church in Australia, said that churches had been “wonderful in their role as trusted, honest brokers, and, in meetings where we were, at no point promoted one candidate over another,”
“We have not observed major intimidation, that I know of,” another WCC observer, the Revd Dr Gunilla Hallonsten, executive director of policy at the Church of Sweden, said.
Things changed on Wednesday, when the ruling ZANU-PF party was declared winner of the majority of parliamentary seats, a long way ahead of the main opposition party, the MDC Alliance.
Election observers criticised the delay in announcing the result of the presidential election, which prompted supporters of the MDC Alliance candidate, Nelson Chamisa, to accuse officials of fixing the result.
During clashes in Harare, one of Mr Chamisa’s supporters was reportedly shot dead by police.
In the results, ZANU-PF yet again won a considerable majority, securing 122 of the 210 seats in the National Assembly, against 53 won by the MDC Alliance. As of Wednesday, 33 had not yet declared. The results were met with unconfirmed reports of rigged vote-counting and threats that the results would be challenged. None was confirmed at the time of going to print.
This was the most important election since 1980, when the country became independent from the UK, and it is the first election since 2002 in which international observers from Churches, civic bodies, and NGOs were allowed as observers. CAFOD, Christian Aid, and other international church bodies, such as the World Council of Churches (WCC), were on the ground in Zimbabwe.
On Wednesday morning, international observers were wary of declaring the election free and fair. “I think what we would say is that the polling process was peaceful and calm, which made us feel hopeful. Whether this translates into free and fair elections remains to be seen,” Dr Williams said.
EU monitors reported an “improved political climate, but un-level playing field and lack of trust”.
The Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa, the Zimbabwean Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the ZCC, and the WCC are just a few of the organisations that will produce a comprehensive election report, one of many by international observers.
In the hours after the military action that removed Mr Mugabe after 37 years as President, last November, the Churches spoke about the hope for “the birth of a new nation”.
Zimbabwe is faced after the elections with the task of rebuilding a divided nation after 37 years of a divide-and-rule style of post-colonial rule by Mr Mugabe.
In the past months, church leaders, and especially the ZCC, preached reconciliation at home, and urged dialogue from the pulpits, while trying to gain international support and attracting influential international election-observers from church organisations.
As polling booths closed on Monday evening, Dr Mtata, a Lutheran pastor from Harare, used Facebook and Twitter to urge people to wait patiently for the results to be announced, and to “prevent violence”.
He wrote: “1. We prayed. 2. We mobilized. 3. We voted. 4. We must await the official announcement of results. 5. We need to reach out to each other as a people to build our nation for peace, unity, justice and prosperity for all.”