HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe is embroiled in an economic and political crisis marked by human rights abuses, said the country’s Roman Catholic bishops, who were then criticized by the government as “evil” and trying to promote genocide.
In a pastoral letter read out at all Catholic churches Sunday, the bishops said Zimbabwe is in “a multi-layered crisis of the convergence of economic collapse, deepening poverty, food insecurity, corruption and human rights abuses.”
Scores of government critics and ordinary people have been arrested in recent weeks, others allegedly abducted and tortured and many are in hiding following an anti-government protest thwarted by security agents in July.
“Fear runs down the spines of many of our people today,” said the bishops’ statement. “The crackdown on dissent is unprecedented … Our government automatically labels anyone thinking differently as an enemy of the country: that is an abuse.”
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government quickly responded with information minister Monica Mutsvangwa accusing the bishops of being “evil.”
“With nefarious cynicism to history, Archbishop Robert Christopher Ndlovu is inching to lead the Zimbabwe Catholic congregation into the darkest dungeons of Rwanda-type genocide,” Mutsvangwa said in the state-run Sunday Mail newspaper.
The “errant” and “reckless” archbishop “and his flock of misled Catholic bishops” were promoting a civil war, she said, calling Ndlovu “the chief priest of the agenda of regime change that is the hallmark of the post-imperial major Western powers for the last two decades.”
Critics accuse Mnangagwa of being more repressive than his predecessor, the late Robert Mugabe, despite promising democracy when he took power in 2017 following a military coup. The economy is in a downward spiral, with inflation above 837%, the second-highest worldwide after Venezuela.
The spat between the Catholic bishops and the government came after Zimbabwe’s High Court ordered prison authorities to respect the rights of Hopewell Chin’ono, a journalist, and Jacob Ngarivhume, an opposition politician, who have been in jail for more than three weeks after being accused of mobilizing an anti-government protest.
Chin’ono’s lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said Sunday that for the first time since Chin’ono was sent more than a week ago to the harsh Chikurubi Prison, she was able to see him and privately consult with him following the court order. But prison authorities refused her to bring him warm food. Mtetwa said Chin’ono is surviving on biscuits and water because prison food does not fit his medical requirements.
Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
The Holy See’s Apostolic Nuncio to Zimbabwe, Archbishop Paolo Rudelli, Sunday morning, paid a solidarity visit on the Archbishop of Harare, Robert Christopher Ndlovu.
The Archbishop of Harare has been singled out for a scorching personal attack by the Zimbabwe Government. The Apostolic Nuncio’s visit was also a symbolic act of solidarity with all the Bishops of Zimbabwe.
Pastoral Letter asked Government to avoid suppression of citizens
It all started with a Pastoral Letter published Friday by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC). The Bishops’ Pastoral Letter called on the Government to address the economic and political crisis in the country without resorting to the violent suppression of citizens.
The Letter followed a brutal police and military crackdown of 31 July protests, in Zimbabwe. Several activists and journalists are still under detention, in Harare -the capital city.
Personal attack on Archbishop Ndlovu
In reaction to the Bishops’ Pastoral Letter, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Monica Mutsvangwa issued a statement attacking the Catholic Church leadership. The Statement was read in its entirety on national television and other government media on Saturday evening.
Although all Catholic Bishops in Zimbabwe signed the Pastoral Letter, the Information Minister chose to isolate and target Archbishop Ndlovu for a personal attack in the Statement she released. Archbishop Ndlovu is the current President of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference.
Government avoided content of the Pastoral Letter
The Government’s attack on Archbishop Ndlovu and other Bishops referred to their Letter as, “shards of a Pastoral Letter issued under the misguided if (not) evil-minded leadership of the Archbishop of Harare.”
Minister Mutsvangwa’s Statement, however, avoided responding to the gist of issues raised by the Bishops. In many ways, most of the contents of the Pastoral Letter have been raised before by Zimbabwe’s lawyers, medical personnel and rights activists.
Observers in Zimbabwe also noted that the Government’ Statement sought to misinform Zimbabweans. It portrayed Archbishop Ndlovu and other Catholic Bishops of acting contrary to the wishes and positions held by Pope Francis.
Catholics and non-Catholics stand with the Bishops
For their part, Catholics and non-Catholics in Zimbabwe took to social media to express solidarity with the Bishops. They particularly reminded Catholic Ministers and ZANU Party officials to remember that Bishops were Shepherds who have no political ambitions.
The Bishops, they said, could not remain silent in the face of so much suffering, COVID-19 and growing poverty.
Source: The Vatican News