Zimbabwe govt to meet Vatican envoy over Catholic bishops’ criticism

Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi

HARARE, (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s government on Wednesday said it had sought a meeting with the Vatican representative to understand whether Catholic bishops who accused it of human rights abuses and cracking down on critics were speaking on behalf of the Holy See.

Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi described a pastoral letter written by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference last weekend as “inappropriately prescriptive and grossly disrespectful”.

The bishops’ strongly worded letter said the country had a multi-layered crisis, including economic collapse, deepening poverty, corruption and human rights abuses.

Inflation running at more than 800% is the clearest sign of the worst economic crisis in over a decade and has evoked memories of hyperinflation under former president Robert Mugabe, whose 37-year rule was ended by an army coup in 2017.

Ziyambi said Harare authorities took offence to the bishop’s description of the government, headed by Mugabe’s replacement, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, as lacking the knowledge, skill or emotional stability to resolve Zimbabwe’s political and economic problems.

“The statement constitutes an outright insult on the person of President E.D. Mnangagwa and his entire government, and is couched in language decidedly unbecoming of an institution such as the Catholic Church,” said Ziyambi.

“Government is compelled to engage the Vatican in order to ascertain whether or not such statements reflect the official attitude of the Holy See towards Zimbabwe’s leadership or whether these are merely the views of the various individuals concerned.”

Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo would meet the local Vatican representative, said Ziyambi.

Ziyambi denied there was a political crisis in Zimbabwe and said it was all social media hype.

But critics say several activists have been arrested, abducted or tortured for speaking against the government and accuse Mnangagwa of using the COVID-19 pandemic to stifle dissent.