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Statement from Archbishop Ndungane On A Meeting Between President Mbeki and Religious Leaders

Posted on: August 10, 2005 9:03 AM
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This Statement was given at a media conference at Bishopscourt this morning.

Yesterday evening I and other religious leaders met with President Mbeki on the issue of Zimbabwe.

Also present at the meeting were Deputy President Mlambo-Ngcuka, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and Minister of Land Affairs Thoko Didiza. The religious leaders included the President of the South African Council of Churches, Professor Russel Bothman; the Vice President of the SACC; General Secretary of the SACC, Dr Molefe Tsele; Cardinal Napier of the Catholic Church; Dr Coenie Burger, Moderator of the NGK; Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church, Ivan Abrahams; Bishop Paswana of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and Pastor Ntlha of the Evangelical Alliance.

This meeting followed our initial meeting with the President a few weeks ago where we reported back on our July fact-finding visit to Zimbabwe and discussed what we, as the religious community could do to help the situation. The President then promised to meet with us once he had read and digested the UN report.

Subsequent to that meeting we started an assistance fund for the victims of Operation Murambatsvina and collected some food and blankets to send to Zimbabwe, to be distributed by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches. You will also be aware by now that the trucks carrying 37 tons of food and a few thousand blankets have not been able to leave South Africa yet. This is due to the Zimbabweans insisting on certificates from the suppliers of the food as well as from the Ministry of Agriculture to certify that the food is not genetically modified. We know that many countries Africa are quite sensitive about GMO foods and want to ensure that developed world countries do not offload these foods on our doorstep.

On receiving the UN report, President Mbeki mentioned again that he would be meeting with Southern African religious leaders and that is why we were all in Pretoria yesterday.

I think that the fact that the Deputy President, Minister of Finance and Minister of Land Affairs were all present at this meeting is an indication of how seriously the present situation in Zimbabwe is viewed by our government. It is very clear to all of us that this crisis needs clear heads and options for a solution rather than political posturing in either South Africa or in Zimbabwe at this stage.

Zimbabwe is in a very precarious situation. The crisis seems to be in three major areas:

Firstly, the humanitarian crisis exacerbated by Operation Murambatsvina and we, as churches, are doing our best to respond to that. Apart from the Operation there has been the question of a food shortage for some time. We have been given the assurance that the Department of Agriculture will be issuing a certificate (that the foods we are sending have not been genetically modified) this morning. So we hope that our trucks will be on their way soon.

The second area of major concern is that Zimbabwe is in danger of forfeiting its membership of the IMF. It owes the IMF and other institutions a lot of money, which it is apparently unable to pay at this stage. The consequences of Zimbabwe's expulsion from the IMF are very serious and will lead to a far worse situation in Zimbabwe.

I do not need to remind you that the consequences of a meltdown in Zimbabwe will actually be disastrous for the whole of Southern Africa.

There is another side to the IMF coin and that is that if the IMF itself rescues Zimbabwe, the conditions it will impose on the country in order for it to restore itself may well result in its citizens being far worse off than they are now.

Thirdly, and most importantly, it is felt that Zimbabweans from government, from opposition parties, from civil society and business must come together and be informed of the true facts of the crisis so that they can all begin to address that crisis together. Once that is done they can call on South Africa and other countries for the help they need.

On the visit that I and other religious leaders made to Zimbabwe in 2003, we met with President Mugabe, the opposition and civil society leaders and they all agreed that coming together was the only solution for their country.

Concern has been expressed by South Africans about the conditions of a possible loan by South Africa to Zimbabwe. Those present at our meeting yesterday were given assurances that this government has a good record of fiscal discipline and are not going to enter into any loan agreement in an irresponsible way and that all proper processes will be followed - including engaging with parliament. We believe those assurances and hope that they help to allay any fears on that score.

We South Africans need to lend our support to finding a solution in this quagmire. This is not the time to be arguing amongst ourselves about details. We must press for all stakeholders in Zimbabwe to come together and work what is best for their country. Along with help in supplying short-term humanitarian aid, that is our appeal.


For further information please phone Penny Lorimer, Media Liaison for Archbishop Ndungane
on +27 82 894-1522