It’s Not About Catholics, It’s About Dire Situation In Zim
17 August 2020
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By Tinashe Gumbo

First things first, I would like to categorically state that the Church in Zimbabwe and elsewhere remains an institution of great influence; that society still looks to this important institution for prophetic leadership on political, social and economic issues. The Church has numbers, not even exaggerated numbers but real figures. These numbers are key and strategic for any serious politician. If I were one, I would surely work to attract and not to attack the Church. I am not a Catholic but a Christian, I am a Lutheran, but I belong to an Ecumenical Church in Zimbabwe. I grew up in the Church; I studied the Church in school, worked in the Church for almost a decade and a half. Indeed, I am still in the thick of things where the Church is striving to fulfill its God-given mandate. This background, I value so much and this has forced me at least to say something about the plight of the Church in Zimbabwe at the moment.

The events of the past few days have shown that as a country we have lost respect of the institution of the Church. Following the release of a Pastoral letter to the nation by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC) on the 14th of August 2020, the Government of Zimbabwe, or at least individuals in that government chose confrontation ahead of dialogue with the Church. The Minister of Information and Publicity, Senator Monica Mutsvangwa singled out the President of the ZCBC, Bishop Robert Ndlovu and attacked him using very strong unpalatable and unchristian (but the Minister claims to be Christian) words. Yet, the letter had been produced and disseminated by an institution not an individual. Why the Minister attacked the person of Bishop Ndlovu and not the institution still calls for an explanation. Why the Minister opted for an attack and not dialogue, further calls for an explanation. Many who watched the 8 o’ clock news on that fateful night on ZTV were left wondering if the Minister read an official statement or a personal position against the person of Bishop Ndlovu. This development reinforced the fact that the coexistence of religion and government remains a contentious issue in this country. Everyone had hoped that “the Voice of the people would remain the Voice of God”. What happened to this appetizing phrase, no one knows.

The ZCBC letter was examined from political, social and economic vantage points by its genuine audience. It was simply a restatement of the obvious. Everyone knows the state of the country’s economy, politics and social life. Our politics has remained toxic, the economy is exclusive as only a few are benefiting from the country’s cake, the constitution is yet to be fully enjoyed while socially the country is still torn apart by hatred, polarization and lack of a shared national vision. The country’s incapacity to effectively respond to the natural disasters such as Cyclone Idai that wrecked havoc last year and the current COVID-19 pandemic are only symptoms of a huge deep seated challenge in Zimbabwe. This is not a new situation. Some of us have not even enjoyed the fruits of our education. The universities we attended just offloaded us onto a country whose main interest is to fulfill the aspiration of a few. No meaningful employment for our children. No food on the table for our mothers and fathers. We are yet to enjoy our rights as comprehensively covered in Chapter 4 of our constitution. Our health system is down in the context of a deadly pandemic. Abductions, arbitrary arrests of our citizens, withdrawal of our freedoms, fear of our supposedly gun wielding “protectors” and general sense of hopelessness, have characterized our people. When they hoped for help from our neighbors, our neighbors chose “quite diplomacy” and when our people expected dialogue among our leaders, our leaders chose to attack the Clergy. When our people were left with no option but to exercise their right to demonstrate, our people were thrown into jail or forced into the bush. Yet, this is our only country. Zimbabwe belongs to us all.

Going through the ZCBC letter, I saw this sad situation being retold in a biblical way. The Bishops did not say anything more than what an ordinary man or woman experiences in Zimbabwe. They simply restated the obvious. And stating the obvious became a major crime for them. Modise (2018) put it clearly that the Church is one of the inter-societal components that provide society with “blueprints.” If there is a belief that the Church should not be supplying society with “blueprints” it actually means that the Church should stay away from political, social, economic and judicial issues. Staying away from these issues that define humanity will mean abandoning the mission of the Church.

Jonker (1991, in Modise, 2018) argues that:
In abnormal times, when normal political action is made impossible by unjust laws, the banning of political organizations and suspension of democratic processes, the Church will have to step into the void with its political prophesy, to take up the cause of victims of injustice. That is also what the Biblical prophets would have done……… The Church should proclaim God’s demands of justice, fairness and protection of the poor. The Church should also not be afraid to criticize unjust laws and a specific political model.

The history of the Christian Church indicates that it has contrived to live and maintain its witness under very diverse types of governments. For the first three centuries of Christian existence, it was not even a permitted religion in the Roman Empire. Although not continuously persecuted, its influence for good could only be unofficial through the lives and witness of its members. With the “conversion” of the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, obviously a new scenario emerged with its own list of responsibilities, challenges and at times opportunities for the institution.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the Smith and Mugabe administrations manifested different characteristics towards the Church. I will not labour to remind you how particularly the Catholic Bishops were treated under the two leaders. In the Second Republic, we are told that the Presidium is purely Christian and at least Church Goers (one is from the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe; one is Catholic while the other is Lutheran). A lot is expected from such “Christian” top employees of the country. However, the statement by Senator Mutsvangwa forces the audience to paint the whole Government with the same brush.

It is my held position that indeed, Minister Mutsvangwa attacked the Church in Zimbabwe and not Bishop Ndlovu, not even a single Church but an Ecumenical Church. In that case, by extension, Minister Mutsvangwa has attacked all the Christians in Zimbabwe. The ZCBC is the current Chair of the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD), a platform that brings together, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ) and the Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches and Zionists in Africa (UDACIZA). The ZHOCD promotes Christian unity among its member ecumenical bodies and fights for equality, socio-economic justice, peace, constitutionalism and good stewardship of the country’s resources.

These days I hear and see the Church responding to the physical and emotional needs of the citizens of Zimbabwe due to COVID-19. Every congregation is finding ways to help those around who need food, assistance with their rent, connecting digitally or some other kind of accompaniment. The Church has further covered up for the gaps that in a normal situation would have been the role of Government. In other words, our Church has done a lot to clothe the naked nation. Otherwise, without the Church, our Government would have been greatly exposed. Thus, one would have expected to hear words of appreciation from the Government officials, not personal attacks targeted at the Clergy. When we expected a praise song from the Minister, we heard tribalistic and divisive utterances against Men of Cloth. This was really unfortunate and I hope the Government will find ways of apologizing to the Church, to Christians and indeed to the people of Zimbabwe. For me, this is more than mere solidarity with Bishop Ndlovu or the Catholics but with the broader Ecumenical Church in Zimbabwe. My firm belief in social, economic and political justice has pushed me to this end.

For everyone’s information, Senator Mutsvangwa has been one of my favorite Ministers of the time. She is eloquent, intelligent and in most cases she had remained smart and professional in her conduct of duty. She had been one of the key figures in the fight against COVID-19. However, the manner in which she handled the ZCBC case has tainted my view on her. I am sorry!

This is a personal opinion from Tinashe Gumbo and should not be in any way taken to represent the views of the various institutions Iam associated with.

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