Printer Friendly

Archbishop campaigns to end Zimbabwe crisis.

A Catholic cleric in Zimbabwe is spearheading an international campaign to pressure President Robert Mugabe to stop his policies, which have plunged the country into its worst political and economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1980. Archbishop Plus Ncube, the bishop in charge of the Bulawayo diocese, says he has a moral duty to speak on behalf of the millions who are suffering in silence.

"People are suffering and as long as they continue suffering, I am going to talk. I can't stop talking because it is a God-given duty that the Church must talk when people are suffering," Archbishop Ncube told the press in Harare last week (first week of September).

Ncube was reacting to media speculation that he recently held a secret meeting in London with Prince Charles, heir to the British throne. The archbishop confirmed that the meeting took place in July this year but said that the prince did not want it publicized. He disclosed that the meeting was part of his effort to sensitize the international community to the problems currently facing Zimbabwe.

"I told him about the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe. But he was well informed. He expressed his sadness," Ncube said.

The origins of the crisis

The genesis of the Zimbabwe crisis is the decision by Mugabe to implement a land redistribution program which he says is meant to redress historical economic injustice in land ownership. Since March 2000 the government has been forcefully acquiring land from commercial white farmers without compensation for resettlement of blacks. The exercise has been chaotic. It was preceded by the invasion of white farms by veterans of the anti-colonial war. Many people died, but the government did not stop the invasion or prosecute offenders.

Land has been an emotive issue. During British rule, British settlers forcefully acquired vast chunks of fertile land. Blacks were left with small pieces in mostly infertile areas. After independence, the British government agreed to give money to the Zimbabwean government to purchase white farms for re-distribution. But London later stopped the funding, saying corruption had crept into the redistribution process. The Zimbabwe government says it cannot compensate white farmers with its own money since they never bought the land in the first place.

The United States, Britain and several European countries have banned Mugabe and senior members of his government from travelling to their countries. They have also denied Zimbabwe financial aid, to force Mugabe to end the land seizure. Mugabe has remained adamant, even as the effects of the land policy turn from bad to worse.

Many white farmers have abandoned their farms because of insecurity, and thousands of blacks, who used to earn a living by working there, have become destitute. This has caused a severe food shortage, but the government denies it and says it does not need international food aid. The economy has been declining steadily, with the official inflation rate soaring to over 400%. With the official unemployment rate standing at 70%, poverty has exacerbated the AIDS scourge. Official figures say 34% of the 12 million population is infected with HIV. About 3,000 AIDS deaths occur weekly.

Archbishop Ncube

Archbishop Ncube has earned the wrath of Mugabe's government because of his consistent opposition to the land redistribution policy. When the Archbishop gave an exclusive interview to the British television SKY News in May this year, Mugabe made a scathing attack on the clergyman, accusing him of working towards the downfall of his government.

"'He thinks he is holy and telling lies all the day," the president charged. The president took another swipe at the Archbishop in August. While addressing mourners during the funeral of one of his political allies, Mark Dube, the president said: "Dube would never have gone to invite Blair to please come and invade his motherland, in the same satanic way Archbishop Plus Ncube and his opposition colleagues are doing repeatedly today."

Archbishop Ncube has been consistent in his opposition to Mugabe's policy on land redistribution. He has spoken against it since 2000, when the land invasions started. At that time he received death threats and had to go into hiding. The international human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, took up his case and urged the Zimbabwe government to ensure he was not harmed.

In spite of the danger his anti-Mugabe campaign has placed him in, Ncube is forging ahead with vigour. During his July trip to the United Kingdom, the aim of which was to drum up international support for his campaign in July, he called on Britain and South Africa, Zimbabwe's economically powerful southern neighbour, to exert more pressure on Mugabe to bring about political reforms.

Other cities

While Ncube's focus is to convince Mugabe to change his policies, there are others in Zimbabwe who think that only leadership change can end the crisis.

"The Zimbabwe crisis is purely a failure of leadership," John Makumbe, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe says. "The current government does not have the will to take steps that are necessary to normalize the situation. Only a change of government can save the country from further destruction."

Mugabe has been in power since the end of British rule. The country was run in single party style until 2000, when ZANU-PF faced its first serious electoral challenge. A new opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), swept almost half of the seats in parliamentary elections. But the polls were marred by violence, and international monitors said the elections were not free and fair due to the government's intimidation of the opposition. In the presidential elections of last year, Mugabe defeated Morgan Zvangirai, the MDC candidate. International monitors said this poll also was not free and fair.

"We are far from finished," says Zvangirai. "The MDC is still strong and we are confident of taking over power to end the suffering of our people. In spite of all the odds that may be placed in our way, we will triumph in the next presidential election in March 2005."

The government harasses MDC leaders through arrests and banning of public meetings. Zvangirai is currently facing a treason charge, accused of planning to kill Mugabe. The court has barred him from leaving the country. In 2002, South Africa initiated talks between the MDC and the government to discuss how to end the crisis. But the talks collapsed when Mugabe pulled out, saying he cannot negotiate with "a puppet of Britain."

Church and reform

While the Catholic Church has been vocal in its opposition to Mugabe's land policy, it has made it clear it supports land reform. However, the head of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Tarcisius Zimbiti, says any attempt to address historical injustice needs to be done in a manner that does not cause further injustice.

"The land reform, which is for the common good of the nation, needs a proper legal framework and a well-prepared program of action. This is the position of the Church," says Zimbiti.

Recent events have indicated an underhand attempt to punish the Church for its position. Early this year, the government pressed charges in court against the Catholic diocese of Hwange over its alleged involvement in black-market currency exchange. Another Catholic institution, the Church-run Mater Dei hospital in Bulawayo, was charged with the same offence. While the government says it is just enforcing its strictly controlled foreign currency market, the move was seen as an attempt at retribution.

As the crisis continues to deepen, Archbishop Ncube's plea for more international pressure on Mugabe needs urgent action. It is not too late to save Zimbabwe from disintegration.

David Karanja is a novelist and journalist in Nairobi, Kenya. He has been a columnist for Daily News of He is currently the editor of Story, a literary magazine in Nairobi.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Catholic Insight
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Karanja, David
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:6ZIMB
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Previous Article:Abortion and "proportionate reasons".
Next Article:Books received from Catholic publishers.

Related Articles
`Aligned with evil': (Anglican church in Zimbabwe).
Qaddafi Buys Increased Clout in Africa.
Mugabe starving his people. (News in Brief: Zimbabwe).
Archbishop goes into hiding. (News in Brief: Zimbabwe).
Zimbabwe needs help.
Zimbabwe under tyranny.
Targeting a tyrant.
Prophetic politics in the new South Africa: ten years after the formal dismantling of apartheid, economic injustice, HIV/AIDS, and poverty stand in...
Rescuing Zimbabwe.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |