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Churches in Zimbabwe attempt to forge national unity over breakfast

05 February 2019


Pastor Evan Mawarire, released on bail from Chikurubi Maximum Prison, Harare, last Friday

Pastor Evan Mawarire, released on bail from Chikurubi Maximum Prison, Harare, last Friday

ON THURSDAY, the Churches in Zimbabwe have attracted the President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and 200 public figures to a “National Dialogue” prayer breakfast in Harare. The aim is to unite opposing factions around the ideal of achieving “long-term peace, unity, justice, and prosperity for all Zimbabweans”.

One of the initiators is the general secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), the Revd Dr Kenneth Mtata. He wrote on social media on Monday evening: “We had dialogue in 1979, and a new Zimbabwe was born. We had dialogue in 1987, and had the Unity Accord. Had dialogue in 2009, and got a government of national unity. We had a wide engagement in 2013, and got a new constitution.

“Though imperfect, we always benefited from dialogue.”

All the main figures in Zimbabwean public life are expected to be present, representing political parties, trade unions, civil society, captains of industry, security forces, the police, and the Churches. As well as President Mnangagwa and the leader of the opposition, Nelson Chamisa, high-ranking military and security people are expected to attend.

The launch of a National Dialogue framework comes under the umbrella of various church bodies: the ZCC, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, and the Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe Africa.

The prayer breakfast will include “a full liturgy”, and seeks to start a “national convergence process”. Although it was planned before the violence last month (News, 25 January), the renewed tension has demonstrated the need for such a move.

Barely a fortnight ago, the worst post-Mugabe violence erupted, after increased petrol prices led to calls for a national shutdown. There was an internet blackout. Twelve people are known to have died, and, when internet was restored, reports and videos circulated of people wounded, beaten up, abducted, and raped, in an unprecedented spate of violence.

Organisers of the National Dialogue point out that, since the elections in July 2018, many issues have not been resolved between the various political parties. The preamble to the prayer breakfast states: “This situation has stifled any progress in economic development, resulted in the loss of lives, deterioration of human rights, damage to property, and loss of livelihoods, tarnishing the image Zimbabwe had, and creating a grim prospect of the nation for the future.”

It quotes Romans 14.19: “So, then, let us pursue what makes for peace and for building up one another.”

One of the organisers of the #ShutDown, Pastor Evan Mawarire, the #ThisFlag activist, was one of those held during the unrest. He was arrested, imprisoned for two weeks, and released on bail on 30 January, charged with inciting violence and undermining an elected government.

On Sunday, the Southern African director of Human Rights Watch, Dewa Mavhinga, posted on Twitter a video of soldiers beating women, calling it “state-sponsored terror”.

President Mnangagwa had earlier posted a message that “violence or misconduct by our security forces is unacceptable and a betrayal of the new Zimbabwe. Chaos and insubordination will not be tolerated. Misconduct will be investigated. If required, heads will roll.” In another posting, he also embraced a National Dialogue.

Dr Mtata said at the weekend: “The timing for the National Dialogue is most appropriate now. We are trying to make sure we give direction to the negative energy. And we are saying: a solution is for us together, to find a path through dialogue.”

The objective is to use the prayer breakfast to inaugurate a framework leading to a National Dialogue process. The aim is threefold: to heal fractured relationships between Zimbabweans; to achieve mutually beneficial economic development; and to encourage good governance in a constitutional democracy with respect for the rule of law.

Dr Mtata has tried to steer a non-partisan ZCC in a politicised and divided society, where 80 per cent of the population are church attenders, and where the Churches still have influence.

There was a dispute on social media last week, when Dr Mtata pulled out of a 24-member advisory board announced by President Mnangagwa. He said that he had not been consulted beforehand, although he expressed support for the government’s nation-building agenda.

He issued a statement, saying: “I feel really flattered to be invited to serve the nation and President in such a role in a moment as this. My current position will, however, limit effective functioning in such a huge role. I have therefore humbly withdrawn my name.”

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