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Bishops’ warning is met with insult from minister in Zimbabwe

21 August 2020

PA/REUTERS

A police officer orders protesters to disperse during a rally against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, outside the Zimbabwe Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, last week

A police officer orders protesters to disperse during a rally against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, outside the Zimbabwe Embassy in Preto...

THE relationship between church leaders in Zimbabwe and the coun­try’s political leadership under Pres­id­ent Emmerson Mnang­agwa reached a new low after a government minister launched a vitri­olic personal attack on television on the country’s Roman Catholic bishops.

In a pastoral letter released last Friday, and read in RC parish churches on Sunday, the Zimbab­wean Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) had condemned the govern­ment’s harsh response to any form of dissent.

”Fear runs down the spine of many of our people today. The crackdown on dissent is un­­prec­ed­ented,” said the letter. It was headed “The March is not Ended”.

The Information Minister for Zimbabwe, Monica Mutsvangwa, re­­sponded on Saturday with a blistering attack on the Conference, calling them an “evil-minded flock of misled narrow-minded bishops”. She accused its president, the Arch­bishop of Harare, the Most Revd Robert Christopher Ndlovu, of tribalism. Archbishop Ndlovu is an Ndebele.

The Bishops’ pastoral letter had linked the state-sponsored violence against Zimbabweans, which earlier this month gave rise to the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter social-media campaign (News, 7 August), to the Gukurahundi massacres of Ndebele civilians by the Zimbabwe National Army in Matabeleland and the Midlands Province in the mid-1980s.

”Suppression of the people’s anger can only serve to deepen the crisis and take the nation into a deeper crisis. This comes on the backdrop of unresolved past hurts like Guk­urahundi, which continues to spawn even more angry new generations,” the letter had said.

The general secretary of the Zimbabwean Council of Churches (ZCC), the Revd Dr Kenneth Mtata, who is a Lutheran, responded quickly on Twitter to the minister’s attack: “We knew the situation would escalate but not at this rate. The tone responding to the ZCBC letter is worrying. We hope Presi­­­­­­dent Mnangagwa will tone things down. At this rate, we will be crushing sooner than later.”

On Sunday morning, the Apos­tolic Nuncio to Zimbabwe, Arch­bishop Paolo Rudelli, showed his solidarity by visiting Archbishop Ndlovu.

On Monday, the ZCC’s church leaders backed the pastoral letter, and called on President Mnang­agwa “to provide leadership by retracting the personal attacks on Archbishop Ndlovu and the church leaders.

It also invited the national government to an inclusive national dialogue “towards a homegrown solution to the chal­lenges that are facing the nation”.

The ZCC statement said that Ms Mutsvangwa’s “emotional and dis­respectful” response to the pastoral letter had missed its “unifying and national orientation”.

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