HARARE — Zimbabwe is embroiled in an economic and political crisis marked by human rights abuses, said the country’s Roman Catholic bishops.
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.”
Critics accuse President Emmerson 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 percent, the second-highest worldwide after Venezuela.
On Friday, the 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 mobilising 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.
The Catholic Bishop’s pastoral letter carried the title ‘The March is Not Ended’, drawing from the late American civil rights campaigner John Lewis who “recognised that the march for freedom is not ended even in the present time in which we live.”
“This too is our challenge in Zimbabwe today between those who believe in a past and completed liberation and those who realise that the march is not ended. Peace building and nation building are never completed tasks,” the bishops said.
The bishops said recent calls for anti-government protests were “an expression of growing frustration and aggravation caused by the conditions a vast majority of Zimbabweans find themselves in.”
“Suppression of people’s anger can only serve to deepen the crisis,” the bishops said in apparent reference to government deployment of soldiers and police to thwart protests on July 31.
Zimbabwe is carrying “past hurts like Gukurahundi which continue to spawn even more angry new generations”, the bishops said.
Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa sent special envoys to Zimbabwe to try and understand the depth of the crisis, but the envoys were forced to return without holding meetings with the opposition and human rights groups.
The bishops said the snub was “most regrettable” and “an opportunity missed”.
They added: “In the meantime, some of our people continue to live in hideouts, with some incarcerated while others are on the run… Is this the Zimbabwe we want?”
Corruption in Zimbabwe had reached “alarming proportions” and constitutional bodies including the judiciary and prosecuting authority “seem to be losing their independence and effectiveness.”
Mnangagwa’s regime had turned the military against the people, the bishops said, by “recreating the war situation of us and them, abdicating from the responsibility to build a united nation.”
“We feel that the government is focused on things other than national democratic priorities. This amounts to dereliction of duty. Good leaders are wise enough to see when change and innovation are necessary. They see the gap – of how things are and how they should be – and they seek to close that gap… They are willing to make systematic changes to uplift the lives of all,” the bishops said.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference and other church organisations and civil society groups on August 5 launched a proposed comprehensive national settlement framework which calls for a “broadly agreed reform process towards constitutionalism and the rule of law”; a new social contract on the basis of an inclusive national economic vision; mending of diplomatic relations with other countries and an inclusive humanitarian emergency response among other aspirations.
“We make an urgent plea to peace and nation building through inclusive engagement, dialogue, and collective responsibility for transformation… Indeed as John Lewis realised, the march is never ended, but together we will overcome,” the bishops added.
The seven bishops who signed the pastoral letter were Archbishop Robert Ndlovu (Harare), Archbishop Alex Thomas (Bulawayo), Bishop Paul Horan (Mutare), Bishop Michael Bhasera (Gweru), Bishop Albert Serrano (Hwange), Bishop Rudolf Nyandoro (Gokwe) and Bishop Raymond Mupandasekwa (Chinhoyi).