Zimbabwe’s political upheaval over the past week is a historic moment that could lead to a better future, according to the papal representative to the country.
The people of the capital celebrated into the next morning after President Robert Mugabe resigned on Tuesday, following pressure from the military, Polish Archbishop Marek Zalewski said.
New President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Friday that Zimbabwe “dare not squander the moment.”
Mnangagwa was fired as vice president by Mugabe on Nov. 6 in a dispute over the growing presidential ambitions of Mugabe’s unpopular wife, Grace.
His dismissal was the impetus for the military to act to remove the 93-year-old president, who had ruled the country for 37 years.
During Mugabe’s tenure, the southern African country has gone from being the breadbasket of the continent, to an economic basketcase.
Much of this is blamed on the country’s disastrous land reforms, when the government confiscated land from white farmers and redistributed it to blacks, many of whom were politically-connected apparatchiks with no agricultural experience.
The country’s unemployment level has hit a staggering 90 percent, and the currency collapsed years ago.
In an interview with Vatican Radio, Zalewski said transforming the country “will not be easy, obviously.
“What I see now is a little different way of thinking. Maybe they feel free because they realize that the military power and the army of Zimbabwe is not so bad, and they are also suffering [from] the economic crisis,” the archbishop said.
He said the people of Zimbabwe are friendly, highly educated, and intelligent.
“Putting them all together as a people and as a nation, I think they have very great potential and they could exercise it, if they are well organized, and have enough courage to make some pressure on the new government,” Zalewski said.
Pressure will be important.
Mnangagwa did not come to power through a revolution, and he does not have ties to the country’s vocal opposition. He was a longtime ally of Mugabe, and participated – and often helped coordinate – policies such as the farm takeovers and a violent crackdown on the opposition in 2008.
The papal representative said in this regard, the Church has an important role to play.
He said the Catholic bishops of Zimbabwe are the only institution clearly articulating the criteria necessary for a happy future in the country: The application of the concept of social justice, respect for religious freedom, and respect for human rights.
“This is the basis on which we have to work. The people are very enthusiastic here, very patient, and they hope for the better future,” Zalewski said.
“But the Church must teach them…must propose in which direction they have to go,” he said.
The archbishop said a major problem is corruption, and the constant urge to skim for personal gain.
“For the future of the country, actually, this is a disaster!”
Zalewski said the Church is helping to create a new mentality, which can help create a new society that is “more just, maybe more Christian, more open to the needs of our neighbor.”
Finally, he said the international community must do more to help Zimbabwe’s transformation into a functional democracy.
“Very often they tolerate too much, this kind of dictatorship, or we keep silent,” the archbishop said, “or it is convenient for different reasons. They could also help to form a just government.”
This article incorporated material from The Associated Press.