We Are A God-fearing Leadership: Mnangagwa
14 June 2023
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President E.D. Mnangagwa

I recall our first meetings with Churches and Church leaders soon after our Independence. Rhodesian propaganda had painted freedom fighters darker than the devil. We were a godless lot, blue-dyed communists associated with all manner of devilry.

This Rhodesian narrative would be repeated daily and unremittingly, until a large part of the Rhodesian populace — both black and white — began to believe these blood-curdling propaganda stories mischaracterising us.

By contrast, white Rhodesia beatified itself as holy, carefully cultivating a self-image of a God-fearing civilisation created by a selfless generation of “Founders” who had come from afar, to redeem and Christianise a benighted race inhabiting a “Dark Continent”. Until the white man came, Africa was a continent living outside history; lived as a continent filled by a race which did not know God! This was the colonial narrative.

When Ian Douglas Smith declared his Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), he claimed that he had “struck a blow for Christianity”, thus depicting UDI as Christian. The Anglican Church – the Church of the Settler Rhodesian State – was dutifully in tow, lending holiness to such apostate claims. That way, a colonial project by a foreign occupying power was characterised as Christian, and for the good and elevation of us Africans.

Colonialism was, thus, a God-send, not some racially oppressive system of foreign invasion and occupation.

The Church and State are inseparable

Rhodesia described itself as the last bulwark against “the black and red peril”. The “black peril” was represented by us Africans who threatened to overwhelm white civilisation through our overwhelming numbers, and by our culture described as rank heathenism.

The “red peril” represented communism whose diligent agents were “terrorists”, in this case our freedom fighters. These terrorists, so Rhodesian propaganda claimed, had been trained and “misled” by evil, foreign communist hailing from countries like the then Soviet Union, China and other progressive countries drawn from the Eastern Bloc, which supported our Liberation Struggle.

The communists had used their vile propaganda of communism to mislead an otherwise “happy” African populace grateful to be under British settler colonial rule!

Ogres of a godless creed

As events would have it, in the 1980 elections, we the so-called communist terrorists had now won a Commonwealth-supervised election, and had won it by a landslide. As a result, we had assumed the reins of Government in an independent Zimbabwe! The Patriotic Front, led by our late President, then as Prime Minister, Cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe, and Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, had to meet clerics, most of them raised on the staple of vile Rhodesian propaganda, in order to allay their deeply ingrained and held fears of us.

Only a handful of Church leaders, mostly Jesuits, had met with us as the Patriotic Front in Zambia, at the height of the Struggle. Those knew our humanity denied us by Rhodesian propaganda, and understood our cause which Rhodesia mischaracterised as foreign and communist-inspired. But these clerics were in the minority.

You also had a few missionaries who led rural parishes and, thus, had interacted with, and become exposed to, our freedom fighters operating in liberated and semi-liberated zones. Those, too, knew us and even supported our cause. Otherwise the rest of the erstwhile Rhodesian Church was led by religious figures who viewed us as ogres; figures whose view of us neatly fitted within the terrible persona created of us by Rhodesian propaganda.

I remember that in one of those early meetings, all clerics – to the person – voiced disquiet over our choice of ideology of Marxist-Leninism, which they characterised as a godless creed. They were disgusted that we, the agents of that terrible creed, had won elections, and taken over Government. We needed complete redemption! Could we not, the clerics opined, drop this godless creed for Christianity, of course, under their tutelage as Church leaders?

Healing wounds of colonialism

About the same time, our Ministry of Education, then headed by Dr Dzingai Mutumbuka, was transforming the curriculum to make our education more suited to the needs and values of a free Zimbabwe. Dr Mutumbuka worked with leading educationist-comrades like Dr Fay Chung and Sister Dr Janice Macloughlin. These comrades had developed curricula for our wartime schools. They now sought to adapt it to the needs of a free Zimbabwe, under the ZIMFEB Programme. Again, this raised more anxieties for the Church. From early colonial times, the Rhodesian Church had heavily invested in African Education; it ran the majority of schools for Africans in the country, right through to our Independence. Any changes to the curriculum, more so done by people long mischaracterised as proponents of communism – in their view a godless creed – was extremely disquieting to them.

After a long presentation by Church leaders – one by one and each representing a denomination – the message was stark and clear: our avowed ideology of Marxist-Leninism was unacceptable to the Church! When our turn came, the then Prime Minister, Cde R.G. Mugabe, rose to respond. He gave a long lesson in history, covering colonialism and the racial inequities it created, and the Liberation Struggle which that colonial rule triggered.

Later, he closed in on the issue of our choice of the ideology of Marxist-Leninism, expatiating what he understood it to mean. He also justified the Patriotic Front’s choice of it as an appropriate ideological framework for a post-Independent Zimbabwe as it sought to heal the wounds of a long colonialism, and in its quest to develop the country on egalitarian principles. He also drew parallels and similarities between our ideology and the values espoused by Africans under African communalism.

At the end of this long lecture to the clerics, he said: “We all came through Churches, to the number; we were raised by different denominations of the Christian Church, all of us in positions of leadership. I myself was raised by the Jesuits. We are practising Christians, practised Christianity even as we waged the Armed Liberation Struggle.

Ours was a just war, itself a notion developed by the Church.”

What followed next was dramatic. Cde Mugabe dipped his hands into his pocket and fished out a worn-out rosary.

He said: “This rosary has been with me throughout the war. It guided my faith and prayers daily; it still does to this day; will do so, right to my last days in this life!”

You can imagine the utter consternation from his audience at the sight of a worn-out rosary. The audience included the late Archbishop Patrick Chakaipa! Looking at the stunned clerics, the then Prime Minister declared: “If, as you say, Marxist-Leninism is godless, I say here and now: Give it a God!” That intervention changed relations between the State and the Church, laying a firm foundation to a partnership which endures to this day.

God-fearing leadership

Our struggle was led by a leadership raised by the Church. That Struggle was a just one. The State to emerge from it — the First Republic — was a God-fearing one. Its successor, the Second Republic, is God-fearing, and is built on values espoused by the Church. Our interaction with various denominations of the Zimbabwean Church is routine, and is predicated on a firm belief in a complementary partnership of State and Church. I cannot count the number of times I have held meetings with Church leaders; or even the many Church meetings I have attended and addressed, across denominations.

Last week was a turning point in this enduring relationship. As I addressed congregants at the historic Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield, I told my God-fearing audience that our twin mantras of “Nyika inotongwa nevene vayo” and “Nyika inovakwa nevene vayo” were incomplete, and fell short of the Holy Trinity at the heart of the Church, namely, that of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. To complete that Trinity, we needed something spiritual added. I then declared: “Nyika inonamatirwa nevene vayo!”

This new mantra we have added to our other two mantras, to form a credo of the Second Republic, comes from the heart. It is deeply held. All our politics, our policies and our programmes remain incomplete and unfulfilling until and unless we give them God.

My meeting with Church leaders of our country and, as happened late last week, from our region are meant to ensure that our politics are rooted in God. This is vital as our nation goes for polls. I continue to call on our Church leaders to pray for peaceful elections: before, during and after those elections. We should never tire of sermonising for peace in our land; indeed, praying for peace for our land; pray in our national languages and through our idioms, in our hearts and minds. God will hear us.

Divine favour

We develop our country using God-given resources. Looking at mineral resources we have discovered and are exploiting since the Second Republic, there is no doubt our nation enjoys divine favour. From a paltry US$2,5 billion turnover in mining before this New Dispensation, our mining sector is peeping the US$20 billion-mark, in the five short years we have subsisted as the Second Republic.

This is unprecedented. We continue to discover more minerals, no doubt through divine guidance.

The same salutary results show in most sectors, including in agriculture and in tourism. Both draw from our God-given resources, once more echoing the need to ensure we put God at the heart of our development.

Late last week, I received an utterly lifting progress report from Driefontain Mission. Our Catholic Church has embraced our mantra of Nyika inovakwa nevene vayo, and has started applying it in the Church. Through an investment vehicle the Catholic Church has dubbed Stella Mundi, it has embarked on an ambitious agricultural and value-addition programme, which the Church envisages will be rolled out to cover the whole country. The Bishops, led by Archbishop Ndlovu, have used the Church farm at Driefontain to tease out this new concept. As at last week, they had planted over 200 hectares of wheat, under seven centre pivots. More hectarage is being planted as I write. I thank the Catholic Church leaders for this salutary venture.

What is even more significant is that the funds the Church had mobilised for the project from well-wishers overseas were impounded by some Western country which has imposed sanctions on our country! They did not give up.

They approached Government and, together, we worked out a funding package for the whole project. Now it has taken off, and is set to expand and scale-up in intervening seasons. In due course, the Church will stand on its own.

The Catholic Church story is the story of our economy and of our country.

Looking inward

They say we should never waste a good crisis. As a nation, we have decided a bad crisis wrought by sanctions should be made good by us looking inward, and by us mobilising our own God-given resources. The lesson from Driefontain shows and demonstrates a lifting symbiosis between the three mantras we have coined for ourselves; and how, through them, we invent an enduring framework for a new partnership between the State and the Church. Both institutions, after all, serve the same person created in the image of God.

Nyika Inotongwa, igovakwa nekunamatirwa nevene vayo!