Methodist Church wades into Zimbabwe’s dialogue log-jam

Bishop Reverend Dr Solomon Zwana with Mnangagwa
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THE Methodist Church in Zimbabwe has called for broad-based dialogue to address the country’s multi-faceted crisis characterised by a deepening economic and social crisis.

The call comes in the wake of concerted efforts to bring President Emmerson Mnangagwa and opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa to the negotiating table following the disputed presidential election in 2018, which Mnangagwa won by a wafer-thin 50,6%.

However, the efforts have hit a brick wall due to the entrenched positions of the two political leaders. Mnangagwa insists Chamisa must recognise him as President before negotiations begin, while Chamisa says the legitimacy of the septuagenarian leader should be one of the issues up for discussion.

In an interview, Methodist Church in Zimbabwe (MCZ) Presiding Bishop Reverend Dr Solomon Zwana said an all-stakeholders’ dialogue was necessary to solve the country’s woes.

He said the MCZ has been urging political players to dialogue since 2017, when a military coup toppled the then president Robert Mugabe.

“We have been pushing for peace, not a negative peace, but peace that is driven by respect, tolerance, and the political will to sit down together and talk. As a church we have been adding our voices around the issues concerning dialogue in a multidimensional way; a dialogue that is inclusive. We are calling for dialogue that is not limited to the political actors only, but dialogue that embraces the members of civil society and other institutions,” Zwana said.

“Zimbabweans should feel that they have ownership of the direction that the country is taking. As a church, we have been pushing for dialogue which is not only focussed on the 2018 election, but also other social issues including from previous years.

“The church has been pushing the political actors to go for sober dialogue and put down the use of force, threats and all things that will make it difficult for people to sit down and dialogue”.

Zwana revealed that the MCZ leadership had met both Mnangagwa and Chamisa in a bid to nudge them to the negotiating table.

“For your own information, we started engaging these two major players even before the 2018 election. We requested for a meeting and they accepted and we had discussions around the need for peace. Even after the 2018 election we had quite a number of meetings,” Zwana revealed.

“As the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe, we also have pastoral visits through which we also passed the message that there is need to dialogue and we also encouraged them to seek dialogue in constructive ways.

“Besides engaging the two, we have also tried to engage them through the ZCC (Zimbabwe Council of Churches), which has been encouraging the political leadership to come together for dialogue. As a church we believe that for a dialogue to make sense, it must not have rigid boundaries.”

The MCZ leader urged political leaders to be decisive and put the interests of the country ahead of personal wishes.He also urged them to guard against pride as they push to find solutions to problems bedevilling the country.

He urged the leaders to engage their structures to ensure support for dialogue at structural level.”We are not sure whether their political systems, their structures, have engaged within themselves and agreed as policy, for example at the Zanu-PF politburo level, that dialogue is desirable. Beyond just engaging with individuals, are the political parties into this, as a policy, where the Zanu-PF politburo can openly say yes we can dialogue within Polad, but we can also dialogue with Chamisa and any other who may want to be included,” Zwana said.

“The same would apply to the national executive committee of the MDC. Do they see themselves ready to dialogue with President Mnangagwa or Zanu-PF or they are also saying they are ready to dialogue with anyone who wants to be part of it?

“I hope it is not the issue of pride (frustrating the talks). I hope it is not an issue of strategising to say ‘ok, we want to see who makes the next move’. Dialogue from a Christian perspective has a sacrificial element, meaning there are certain things one has to sacrifice and one of the things you have to sacrifice is your own pride.

“Dialogue is also risky business in my view because it’s very possible that not all people within your political party may be ready for dialogue. We want our politicians to take leadership.”

Zwane said he is not concerned whether the talks will result in a government of national unity similar to the one between the two parties between 2009 and 2013, but is more concerned with initiating the dialogue process.

Source – the independent