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Zimbabwe church leaders call for prayer, unity to birth a new nation

Clergy statement expresses hope in a peaceful transition of power

by Doug Tilton | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Students at a community school at Norton CCAP, west of Harare, Zimbabwe. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — The heads of Christian Churches in Zimbabwe issued a pastoral message to the nation on Wednesday, November 15, urging calm, prayer and national dialogue. The ecumenical statement was released just hours after four armored personnel carriers rolled into Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, and military officers reportedly seized control of the state broadcaster and placed 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe under effective house arrest.

Most observers characterized the events as an apparently bloodless coup d’état, though the military denied taking power — perhaps in part to forestall intervention by the African Union, whose members are committed to preventing unconstitutional changes of regime.

The church leaders saw the events as a “Moment of Truth” heralding “a new chapter in the history of our nation.”

“We see the current arrangement as an opportunity for the birth of a new nation,” the statement reads. “Our God created everything out of chaos and we believe something new could emerge out of our situation.”

However, the statement warned a favorable outcome would depend on properly identifying the source of Zimbabwe’s political malaise. The statement attributed it to a loss of trust in the legitimacy of national institutions and a lack of sufficient separation among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

The clerics’ statement did not blame politicians alone for these failings but argued that all sectors were accountable.

“All of us at some point failed to play our roles adequately,” the statement said. “The church has lost its prophetic urge driven by personality cults and superstitious approaches to socio-economic and political challenges. Civil society over time has become focused on survival and competition and lost the bigger picture of the total emancipation of the population.”

In response, the church leaders called Zimbabwe “to a moment of prayer for repentance, deep reflection and … collective and individual discernment on what should be the next direction for us as a nation.” The statement urged people to remain calm, and reminded the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, in particular, of their responsibility to ensure respect for human rights and dignity.

The statement also cited the need for the establishment of “a transitional government of national unity that will oversee the smooth transition to a free and fair election.” At the same time, the denominational leaders said there was a need for a “National Envisioning Process (NEP) that will capture the aspirations of all the sectors of society.”

“The church alongside other stakeholders in the private sector, academia, and other spheres can establish this NEP as an inclusive space to enable Zimbabweans from all walks of life to contribute towards a democratic transition to the ‘Zimbabwe We Want,’” the leaders recommended.

“God has put the church in the nation so that it can be a conduit for the healing of the nation,” the statement concludes. “We can either take the current situation as a mere crisis to be resolved by a winner-takes-all mentality or we use this as an opportunity for us to find one another to build something that is permanently healing for our nation. The first option spells disaster for us and future generations. The second option allows us to embrace our situation as a Kairos, an opportunity given to us by God to dream together that another Zimbabwe is possible!”

Since the military’s action, President Mugabe has come under growing pressure to leave office. Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans took to the streets in the capital and other cities across the country on Saturday to demand that he step down after 37 years in power. The following day, the ruling party, ZANU-PF, voted to remove Mugabe as its leader, replacing him with former Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa. While Mugabe remains President in terms of Zimbabwe’s constitution, he faces likely impeachment by Parliament unless he resigns.

[UPDATE – 11/21/2017: According to Jacob Mudenda, Zimbabwe’s Speaker of Parliament, President Mugabe resigned this morning shortly after lawmakers initiated impeachment proceedings.]

While Zimbabwe appears to be on the brink of historic change, cautious optimism has been tempered by uncertainty about the military’s role. It is uncertain if the military will act impartially to facilitate national dialogue and democratic elections, promote a particular candidate or secure a lasting influence over government and policy.

Presbyterian Church (USA) global partners in Zimbabwe — the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa Presbytery of Zimbabwe and the Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian Harare Synod — have invited Presbyterians in the U.S.A. to join Zimbabwe’s ecumenical leaders in praying for justice, peace, and inclusive democracy.

Read the entire statement from the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations.

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Doug Tilton is the Presbyterian World Mission regional liaison for Southern Africa.


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