Churches press for deeper reforms in post-Mugabe Zimbabwe

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AS ZIMBABWEANS woke up on Wednesday morning to a post-Mugabe era, the general-secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Kenneth Mtata, called for the country to address the “deeper issues” that have created “dysfunction” for the past 20 years.

Mr Mugabe resigned on Tuesday evening, nearly one week after a military intervention to curtail his four-decade-long reign.

On Wednesday morning, Dr Mtata, a Lutheran pastor, wrote on Facebook: “The last 15 months have been dramatic and yesterday we reached the climax with the resignation of the president. But Zimbabweans have more deeper issues to address if we are not going to return to the dysfunction of the last 20 years or so.”

A “National People’s Convention” would convene at the HICC Rainbow Towers in Harare on Friday, he wrote, to “map out the journey into the future”.

“The Church needs to contribute to reimagining the future Zimbabwe we all want. Our God who has gone before us in the past will lead us as we take this new journey into the future. We pray for the People’s Conventions!”

About 650 to 1,000 delegates from the churches, civil society, business, academia, and the trade unions will take part in the convention.

No political parties have been invited, but the convention intends to look at ways to move forward to rebuild a country that has been ravaged by 37 years of Mugabe’s authoritarian rule.

Shortly after the military intervention, on Wednesday of last week, the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations called in a statement for five actions: prayer, calm and peace, respect for human dignity, a transitional government of national unity, and a national dialogue.

The convention is being convened as a result of the call for a national dialogue. “The current situation gives us an opportunity to reach out to each other . . . We are in a new situation. But our shared future will only be realised through dialogue,” the statement said.

The Zimbabwean Church leaders are a powerful group, representing the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe. After decades of division, the churches have demonstrated a united front during the past ten days. They consulted, issued joint statements, and last Friday made a joint call for daily prayers to be said every day. During many of the protests last weekend, people paused to pray.

Religious leaders have been at the forefront of Zimbabwe’s protest movement during the past year. Many people united around Pastor Evan Mawarire, who started the hashtag #ThisFlag on social media with a series of YouTube videos to condemn Zimbabwe’s high unemployment, acute cash shortages, and widespread corruption. He was forced to flee to South Africa before returning and being jailed. He is currently out on bail.

Writing on Twitter under pictures of him in handcuffs and addressing a mass prayer rally last weekend, Pastor Mawarire said: “You could never have convinced me that one day I’d find myself in any of these two completely different positions. The last two years have been worth it, arrested 5 times, spent 22 days in prison, 19 court appearances, passport taken, not seen family in 11 months, I’m still on bail, I persevered.”

The Zimbabwean church leaders have received the strong support from church leaders across the world.

The Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba wrote on Twitter on Tuesday night, as news of Mugabe’s resignation spread to neighbouring South Africa: “Continue to uphold Zimbabweans in prayer at this time of transition. Pray for all involved , the military, president Mugabe and Family and his cabinet and especially for ongoing peace and stability.”

The general-secretaries of the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation, Dr Olav Fykse Tveit and the Revd Martin Junge also offered words of support to the Zimbabwean church leaders.

Emmanuel Isch, World Vision Zimbabwe National Director, said on Wednesday: “We stand with Zimbabwe at this time of change and hope that the international community will step up to partner with the people to improve the lives of children and their families. . . World Vision hopes the period of political transition will be one of peace, tranquillity and unity. The country is filled with hope at the possibility for the kinds of change that will bring economic improvement and development and a brighter future for children and youth.”