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Between a crisis and a kairos: Zimbabwean church leaders call for national dialogue

Posted on: November 15, 2017 5:29 PM
Maj Gen Sibusiso Moyo addresses Zimbabwe on state television to say that President Robert Mugabe is "safe and well, and his security is guaranteed."
Photo Credit: ZBC

An ecumenical group of Christian leaders in Zimbabwe have said that the country is “between a crisis and a kairos” (opportunity) and have called for a national dialogue. The Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations, chaired by the Anglican Bishop of Central Zimbabwe, Ishmael Mukuwanda, brings together the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe. In a statement released to ACNS this evening (Wednesday), the group says that many Zimbabweans are “confused and anxious about what has transpired and continues to unfold in our nation.”

Last night, armoured vehicles belonging to the Zimbabwean Army took up position at key locations in the nation’s capital, including outside the parliament, state broadcaster and 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe’s house. Gunfire and explosions were heard but there are no reports of any casualties. This morning, Maj Gen Sibusiso Moyo appeared on state television reading a statement in which he said that President Mugabe and his family were safe and being kept secure. He denied that there has been a coup and said that the army were targeting criminals.

Later, a Tweet from the ruling Zanu-PF party’s official account said: “There was no coup, only a bloodless transition which saw corrupt and crooked persons being arrested and an elderly man who had been taken advantage of by his wife being detained. The few bangs that were heard were from crooks who were resisting arrest, but they are now detained.”

South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, has said that he has spoken by telephone to Robert Mugabe, who told him that he was “fine” and under house arrest.

In their statement, the Christian leaders say that “while the changes have been rapid in the last few days, the real deterioration has been visible for everyone to see for a long time, especially during the political rallies of the ruling party, coupled with the deteriorating socio-economic situation.”

They say that as recently as 30 October, when the Catholic Bishops Conference and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches signed a Memorandum of Association, “it was highlighted that the abrasive and exclusionary politics, characterised by increased use of ethnic identities that was now dominating the public discourse, would further fragment and threaten the already weak cohesion of our society.”

As they look at the situation in Zimbabwe, they are reminded of the warning of Jesus in Luke 19, when he wept over Jerusalem. “He saw the catastrophe of its destruction and the massacre of the people that was imminent, ‘because they had not recognised their opportunity (kairos) when God offered them.’”

They continue: “We see the current situation not just as a crisis in which we are helpless. We see the current arrangement as an opportunity for the birth of a new nation. Our God created everything out of chaos and we believe something new could emerge out of our situation. But first we must properly define our problem. Proper naming of the problem will give us a clear sense of where we must go as a nation.”

They say that the economic problems and social challenges facing Zimbabwe are merely symptoms of “a deeper disease”, which they define as a “loss of trust in the legitimacy of our national processes and institutions.

“There is a strong sense that our hard-earned constitution is not being taken seriously. There is not enough confidence whether 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. There is deep concern that there appears to be no clear distinction between the ruling party and the government. There is concern 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. There is a general feeling that the wheels of democracy have become stuck in the mud of personalised politics where the generality of the citizenry plays an insignificant role. It is this lack of democratic renewal and the resulting stagnation, sterility and fatigue that has culminated in the current situation.”

The Church leaders do not lay the blame for the state of Zimbabwe solely at the ruling party and the government, and they say: “it is also the result of the connivance of the different arms of the state and complicity of the church and civil society. All of us at some point failed to play our roles adequately.

“The church has lost its prophetic urge driven by personality cults and superstitious approaches to socio-economic and political challenges. Civil society over time has become focused on survival and competition and lost the bigger picture of the total emancipation of the population. . . In a way, all Zimbabweans must take some level of blame for our current situation.”

In their statement, the Church leaders make five calls, beginning with a call to prayer for the nation, and for “a moment of prayer for repentance, deep reflection and discernment.”

They also call for calm and peace, urging people not to spread misinformation, particularly on social media, which they say this leads to “despondency and fear”. Instead they call on people to “not sensationalise the situation” but to “be modest in our engagement.”

Their third call is for the respect of human dignity, and is addressed to the Zimbabwean Defence Forces. “We want to make it clear to them that it is their responsibility to ensure that human dignity and rights are respected.”

They call for a transitional government of national unity “that will oversee the smooth transition to a free and fair election.”

And they conclude by calling the nation “to a table of dialogue”. They say: “there is no way we can go back to the political arrangements we had some days ago. We are in a new situation. But our shared future will only be realised [with] dialogue.

“This dialogue cannot only happen within the ruling party. What we need is a National Envisioning Process (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 this NEP as an inclusive space to enable Zimbabweans from all walks of life to contribute towards a democratic transition to the Zimbabwe We Want.”

The Church, they say, is “made up of those who have been reconciled to God and hence is called to be a sign of this reconciliation by calling the nation to reconciliation.

“Zimbabweans can find each other again as they did in the 1960s and 1970s when they joined hands against the colonial forces; Zimbabweans can find each other again like they did when the signed the unity accord and stopped the self-destruction in Matabeleland and Midlands; Zimbabweans can find each other again like they did when the produced the current national constitution; Zimbabweans can find each other like they did when they shared power during the government of national unity.

“There is no chasm that is too big not to be crossed through the power of reconciliation. Without reconciliation and openness to a process of shared national envisioning, we are all doomed.

“We can either take the current situation as a mere crisis to be resolved by a winner-takes-all mentality or we use this as an opportunity for us to find one another to build something that is permanently healing for our nation. The first option spells disaster for us and future generations. The second option allows us to embrace our situation as a Kairos, an opportunity given to us by God to dream together that another Zimbabwe is possible!”

In England, the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, who famously cut up his dog collar on a live television interview in 2007 as a symbol of the way Robert Mugabe was cutting away at the identity of Zimbabweans, said on Twitter that he was “as always praying for the people of Zimbabwe.” He was praying particularly now that its government and the Zimbabwean Defence Force would keep peace, the rule of law and security for all, he said.