YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – After a week seeing the military sideline President Robert Mugabe, the Catholic bishops in Zimbabwe say they are concerned about the future of the country, and have called on all the stakeholders, particularly the future leadership, to think about the best interests of the country.
On Wednesday, the country’s military took over power and kept the country’s 93-year-old president under house arrest.
On Saturday, thousands took to the streets to demand the resignation of Mugabe – a demand that could end his 37-year old rule over the southern African country.
On Sunday, the top brass of the ruling ZANU-PF party sacked Mugabe as the party’s leader, and appointed his vice president, Emerson Mnangagwa – the man Mugabe sacked two weeks ago to clear the way for his wife, Grace, to succeed him as president.
Now, the ZANU-PF has given the president until mid-day Monday to resign or face impeachment.
“We, your Shepherds, encourage those central to these delicate processes (particularly the Zimbabwe Defense Forces and the political leadership) that they maintain the best interests of the nation as a priority and continue to work tirelessly for a peaceful end to the crisis and to speedy return to normalcy and Constitutional order,” the bishops wrote in a Pastoral letter on Sunday.
“Let us be mindful of the fact that besides those who took action and those involved in the ongoing delicate process, the entire population is concerned about the process as well as the future of the country,” they continued.
The bishops’ statement said “a sustainable normalization of Zimbabwe can only be achieved through a people inclusive and participatory process in a democratic way. The governance of Zimbabwe in any transition that may be adopted must embrace all Zimbabweans in their diversity and their oneness. The nation needs to develop a culture of free and fair elections, referenda and consultations.”
The bishops further called on all Zimbabweans to avoid utterances that could further inflame tensions and lead the country towards a precipice.
“We discourage sensationalism, false news and all forms of hate media as these pose a grave danger to the peacefulness of the ongoing process and sustainability of peace,” they said.
They called for due process to be accorded to those accused of crimes, with civil courts to stay neutral in handling their cases.
The bishops noted that many Zimbabweans were facing increasing economic hardship and “the atmosphere has drastically deteriorated culminating in the current intervention by the Zimbabwe Defense Forces.”
An opportunity for a rebirth
Meanwhile, eight leaders from different Christian denominations – including Catholic, Evangelical, Charismatic, and Protestant – issued a statement saying the overthrow of Mugabe could actually be an opportunity for the birth of a new country.
(The Catholic signatories were Bishop Michael Bhasera, the president of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and Father Fradereck Chiromba, the conference’s general secretary.)
“We see the current situation not just as a crisis in which we are helpless,” they wrote. “We see the current arrangement as an opportunity for the birth of a new nation.”
They said that opportunity will only be exploited for the good of Zimbabwe if the country’s central problem is clearly identified.
Noting that many people see the deteriorating economic situation in Zimbabwe and the accompanying myriad of social challenges as the cause of the current crisis, the Church leaders say those are just “symptoms of a deeper disease that has affected the nation for a long time.”
And that “deeper disease” according to the Church leaders, is the gross disrespect for “our hard-earned Constitution,” noting the dwindling confidence in the idea that “the separation of the three arms of the state, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary are functioning in proper relationships of checks and balances.”
The leaders also say the problem results from the fact that “the priorities of the poor have become relegated to charity of those who have access to national resources without proper commitment to addressing the root causes of these problems.”
And ultimately, they blame the “lack of democratic renewal and the resulting stagnation, sterility, and fatigue” for leading to the current situation.
These failures, the Church leaders point out, are the result of a collective failure. They blame the Church for having lost its “prophetic urge, driven by personality cults and superstitious approaches to socio-economic and political challenges.”
They blame civil society for focusing on “survival and competition” and so losing “the bigger picture of the total emancipation of the population.”
They blame many in the ZANU-PF party “who enjoyed unbridled access to the trough of patronage.”
And they blame the media for fanning the flames of hate politics in the interest of sales and profits.
Having given this diagnosis to the problem, the Church leaders called for an inclusive dialogue as the way forward.
They underscored the need for “a National Envisioning Platform (NEP) that will capture the aspirations of all the sectors of society. The church alongside other stakeholders in the private sector, academia, and other spheres can establish an NEP as an inclusive space to enable Zimbabweans from all walks of life to contribute towards a democratic transition to the Zimbabwe we want.”
Although Zimbabwe seems to be preparing for a post-Mugabe era, the president remains defiant.
In a televised address on Sunday, Mugabe refused to announce his resignation and said he plans on presiding at the ZANU-PF party congress in December.