The pitch was made by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe Africa on Tuesday.
The churches called for a “Sabbath on all political contestation for seven years to allow for the rebuilding of trust and confidence, reset our politics and chart a shared way forward towards a comprehensive economic recovery path in a non-competitive political environment.”
Zanu PF has yet to respond, although deputy information minister and Goromonzi MP Energy Mutodi put out a tweet on Wednesday saying the churches’ call was based on “visions from the devil”.
The MDC was more measured, saying it welcomed the church’s efforts at finding solutions to the country’s deepening economic crisis marked by triple digit inflation; fuel, bread and electricity shortages; a weak currency and declining salaries.
“Every interested key stakeholder in the country must look for a long-lasting solution, because the people are suffering,” MDC spokesman Daniel Molokele said.
“But as the MDC, we have been very clear in our position concerning the future of this country and the way forward, that unless and until we resolve the political issues, the economy is going to be affected.”
Key to solving Zimbabwe’s problems, Molokele said, was resolving what he called a “crisis of political legitimacy”. His party does not recognise President Emmerson Mnangagwa following his disputed election win last year.
Molokele added: “The MDC has come up with the RELOAD policy document that outlines the five steps that need to be taken to ensure we move forward as a country. These begin with addressing political and diplomatic issues; an all-inclusive national dialogue process; a national transitional mechanism; comprehensive reforms and a free and fair election that will restore us to political legitimacy and allow us to focus on the economic and social issues.
“As the MDC, we encourage citizens to present their own positions on the future of the country so that we finally come to a national convergence to resolve the political issues.”
Mnangagwa has invited the MDC to a political dialogue process along with two dozen other political party leaders who took part in last year’s elections, but the MDC says it will only take part in direct talks with the Zanu PF leader in a dialogue mediated by a neutral foreign convenor with an African Union and United Nations mandate.
The church leaders said Zimbabwe was in the grips of an economic and political paralysis which could not be solved by another election.
“Since 2000, election periods have been characterised by violence and paralysing polarisation… We foresee that whichever political party wins an election, the paralysis will remain if the opposing parties do not learn how to collaborate,” they said.
“The… current environment does not allow for meaningful political reforms nor is it conducive for an inclusive economic participation for ordinary citizens. Such an environment of toxic political relations also renders our international re-engagement process futile, which international isolation inhibits investor confidence.”
The suspension of elections in the constitution, the churches said, would be put to a national referendum following which discussions would begin about a detailed government structure.
“The assumption is that once the principle receives national acceptance through a referendum, a consultative process to design the operationalisation framework of the Sabbath season will be established through a broad-based and comprehensive national dialogue involving all levels of society.”
The churches said the Sabbath was a deep theological theme based on God’s command to his people to set the seventh day for a rest.
“Seven years were also considered as Sabbath years. Seven-year Sabbaths or 49 years constituted what was called the Jubilee season. In this Jubilee season, land would be left fallow so that it could recover its nutrients. Debts would be forgiven. New relationships would be built and God would bless his people.
“Zimbabwe reaches her Jubilee year in 2029. The nation could use this coming period to usher in a true Jubilee for the nation by removing all political contestation…”