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Zimbabwe: Who is speaking for the Church?
Posted: Friday, April 25, 2008

By Bishop Trevor E. C. Manhanga
April 25, 2008
The Herald

THE statement released on April 21 2008 purportedly from Heads of Christian Denominations, i.e. church leaders of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Catholic Bishops Conference and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches claiming the current situation in Zimbabwe resembles that of genocide Rwanda, cannot go unchallenged.

Let me at the onset state that I do not believe that this "statement" reflects the views of the broad church community it claims to speak for, and I can emphatically state that the majority of church leaders were never consulted and did not sign this very unfortunate statement.

In my involvement with the church community both as head of a Christian denomination (and its current chair), and with the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe as a member and immediate past president, I can categorically state that the first I saw of this statement was when it appeared in the international Press.

I was not privy to seeing this statement prior to its release and know of many other heads of denominations who are in the same position, both in the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches.

On principle, therefore, I personally distance myself from the contents of the statement, and would go further and challenge those who saw it fit to put this statement in the public domain to put the names of church leaders that supported the views contained in the statement, in the public domain.

This will help to prevent a situation where all church leaders are painted with the brush of the opinions of those who authored this statement.

For my part, I can bring to the table a host of reputable church leaders who are quite eager and prepared to state their clear disagreement with this statement, and are not afraid to publicly make their position known.

The statement correctly reports that prior to the harmonised national elections, there was a meeting convened at the Cresta Jameson Hotel in Harare where, among other matters, church leaders collectively agreed on and published a pre-election statement.

At this very meeting it was agreed that after the results of the election were announced, another meeting would be convened and the situation reviewed.

In the aftermath of the election when the result of the presidential election was delayed a representative group of church leaders met with the chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Justice George Chiweshe, seeking clarity on a number of issues, including the reason for the delay and expressing the concerns of the church.

A meeting was also convened with the Commissioner-General of the ZRP to discuss the security situation in the period after the election in light of reports of violence and destruction of property.

This was done in an effort to gather information so that when church leaders convened they could carry out their discussions in an informed environment.

The statement does not take into consideration the input gathered from the meeting with Justice Chiweshe and that with Comm-Gen Chihuri, and one has to wonder therefore if there is another agenda being pursued that is contrary to the consensus of the majority of the church leaders.

For those who would criticise me for coming out clearly against this statement (and I have no doubt they will do so now as they have done in the past), citing the fact that we need to maintain church unity, I categorically state that we cannot have unity at the expense of principle.

The principle is clear in this instance, in that a statement is being issued under the guise of having the broad support of church leaders when that is clearly not the case.

Even if church leaders agree with the sentiments expressed in the statement, principle dictates that they are consulted and their agreement or disagreement canvassed, before something is put out in the public domain linking them to it.

Furthermore, over the past couple of years there has been an open door extended by Government to the church to bring forward their concerns and indeed their disagreements with Government policy and actions, and within that environment vigorous debate has often ensued between the Church and Government.

To their credit Government, led by President Mugabe, have kept their doors open, albeit often times too much time has passed before meetings have been convened, but the Church has had an open door extended to it, and for the most part this has been used for the benefit of the nation.

This does not mean that there has been universal agreement on issues between the Church and Government, but Government officials have, for the most part, listened to the Church and in many instances taken into consideration the concerns of the Church.

That has been very positive, and indeed is as it should be, and there are many of us in the Church community who have appreciated this open-door policy. It is for this reason therefore that the statement flies in the face of the spirit in which relations between the Church and Government have been conducted to date.

I am not stating that the Church must not make its concerns known, and if the Church feels strongly about something they must in no uncertain terms make that known, but surely we must ask ourselves the rationale of publishing a statement in the Press before taking up those concerns and allegations with the powers that be.

No Church leader that I know supports the death or injury and destruction of property of any fellow Zimbabwean.

If indeed we took proven cases of deaths and injuries of our fellow Zimbabweans to the appropriate authorities and did not receive adequate answers, or if our concerns were received indifferently, then we have every reason to publicly take issue with those in authority. However, what I am protesting is the fact that not only have Church leaders (or the majority of them) not been consulted on the contents of this statement, but we have not taken any information we have to the relevant authorities and seek answers and thereafter arrive at positions, prior to making a definitive statement.

Those who authored this statement and saw it fit to publish it without consultation of the very Church community it purports to speak for, must understand the potential damage their actions have done to the standing of the Church.

There can be no doubt on the position of the Church on matters of national reconciliation, peace, political violence, human rights abuse and fair play. There has been a consistent and clear stance from the majority of Church leaders in this country on these issues and so let me not be accused of trying to paper over any of the pressing socio-political issues currently facing our country. However, one must ask from what vantage point people are coming from, who claim that the current situation in Zimbabwe resembles that of genocide Rwanda? Such statements are clearly outrageous and alarmist. The fact of the matter is that Zimbabweans must be commended for the restraint and peaceful manner in which they have conducted themselves and continue to conduct themselves.

For the most part both Zanu-PF, the MDC and other contestants in the recent harmonised elections, must be commended for the manner in which they conducted themselves in the period prior to, during and after the elections.

It is common knowledge that the delay in the publication of the presidential election results has caused tension, consternation and led to the deterioration in the peaceful climate that we had enjoyed. Where violence has broken out and if any lives have been lost, the causes must be investigated and the perpetrators of violence and those found to have caused the loss of life and or destruction of property, must be dealt with swiftly and in accordance with the law.

This is not the time to allow the country to lose the peaceful environment we have enjoyed, but rather to build on the peace we had and for the most part still enjoy.

So while it is clear that the current situation prevailing in the country is one that requires urgent attention, it does not require alarmist proclamations.

No one in his or her right mind will claim the situation in our country is normal. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to acknowledge that there is an impasse.

We have both political and economic challenges, and the result of this is that the people are enduring tremendous difficulty as they struggle to make ends meet. But this is a situation that calls for all of us as Zimbabweans to acknowledge honestly and tackle rationally.

It calls for cool heads with decisive, concerted action taken. It is not a time for international intervention (though we appreciate the support and concern of friends outside Zimbabwe) but for national consensus and action.

This is a situation that calls for all Zimbabweans, not just the political players, to put their collective efforts to addressing, and as I have consistently stated in the past, it is a problem or problems that we can address and resolve, in a manner that maintains our national integrity and dignity.

Nobody can, must, and should be expected to do for us, what we can and must do for ourselves. Our collective national future cannot be outsourced to anyone; we must tackle it and solve it ourselves.

This is therefore a call for a resolution of the political impasse currently existing in our nation. It is for this reason that we need not resort to alarmist statements that incite emotions, but rather appeal to and reach out to people of goodwill on both sides of the political equation (and they are there), to find acceptance of, and accommodation with each other.

This is very possible and my prayer is that, as Zimbabweans we will find each other, and without influence from non-Zimbabwean actors, who have their own agendas that they are pursuing, move our country forward, away from the politics of name calling, violence and destruction. It is in our collective interest that we put aside sectarian and other interests, and put the national interest first and foremost.

Once we do this, I have no doubt we can move forward, together, to peace and prosperity. In this regard the current calls for prayer by church leaders and churches throughout the country must continue and the Church and its membership must continue to offer prayers for our national leaders, those in positions of authority, national reconciliation, the peace and prosperity of the nation, and that the forces of darkness and destruction may be banished from the borders of our beloved nation.

We must never underestimate the power of prayer as we gather together to pray for our nation. Let the words of that powerful worship song of the church galvanise us as we come together in various places of worship, our offices, our schools, our colleges, in our cars and our homes to declare: "If you believe and I believe and we together pray, the Holy Spirit must come down and Zimbabwe shall be saved." We believe.

Bishop Trevor E. C. Manhanga is the Presiding Bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Zimbabwe and Chairman of the Heads of Christian Denominations.

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