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”.