Zim Catholic Bishops call for political dialogue to solve crisis

By Kudakwashe Matambo

Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference have called upon the Emmerson Mnangagwa led government and opposition political leaders to ‘put differences aside’ and engage in a quest to ‘free Zimbabwe’ from the current economic crisis that has resulted into violent country wide protests and total shutdown of business operations.

Submitting recommendations in a statement titled Rebuild Hope, Trust, Confidence and Stability in Zimbabwe released on 17 January 2019, the bishops strongly advocate for an open line of communication for all political players to resolve the crisis and unrest in the country.    

“We call upon Government and the Opposition to put their differences aside and work together to free Zimbabwe from economic shackles and international ostracisation,” read the statement.

“We hasten to say a precedent for working together between Government and Opposition was set when the Government of National Unity (GNU) was formed under similarly difficult circumstances in 2009 and Zimbabwe's economy and prospects were positively revived.”

Acknowledging that issues facing Zimbabwe ‘are not simple’ and that people ‘are divided in opinions about the way forward’ the prelates called the government to constantly engage stakeholders and consult on policies in order to reduce ‘the people’s suffering’ and truly promote an investor friendly environment.

“We call upon Government to consult broadly and desist from unilateral imposition of policies that exacerbate the people's suffering and to have policy consistency in order to instill confidence in investors, especially foreign investors.”

“If it is true that, as we wrote in March 2013, “most Zimbabweans have lost trust in the leadership”, it is also true that an exaggerated trust in individual leaders or parties has not in the end served us well. We do not need a strong man or woman but strong institutions.”

ZCBC also condemned the government’s actions to block the citizens from accessing the internet (especially social media sites) during the stay away and shutdown, saying the directive is ‘denying people their rights.’

Following Minister of State Security Honourable Owen Ncube’s directive to telecommunication operators to suspend internet access across all networks, Zimbabweans suffered from a media blackout from the 15th of January and to date are experiencing regular internet cuts and social media blockage.

ZCBC Secretary General Fr Frederick Chiromba confirmed to Jesuit Communications that the conference’s secretariat has been distributing the pastoral letter to various stakeholders’ while efforts are being made to meet with government officials.

“As you know the President is out of the country, it will be important if we are to meet the government, to meet him so the engagement will be important in the coming weeks,” said Fr Chiromba.

He also confirmed that the Church is always available and ready to ‘offer any assistance’ in the dialogue if an opportunity and need arise.

Zimbabwe experienced a series of violent demonstrations from Monday 14 January following the call by Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) for its members and citizens to ‘stay away’ in protest against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s decision to hike fuel prices by more 150% and general increase in cost of living.

There is still tension in the country’s cities and towns as the government responded to the demonstrations by deploying state security agents including soldiers in some high density areas.

The bishops bemoaned the involvement and use of the army in the country’s politics saying Zimbabweans had many reasons for hope in the pre-election, though “other voices raised concerns about the unconstitutional mode of these changes, and in particular the initial and continuing role of the military with attendant risks to the freedom of our political processes that this might carry for the future.”

“The post-election period has justified some of those concerns. Zimbabwe is burning; its economy is hurting; its people are suffering.”

Meanwhile, President Emmerson Mnangagwa is away visiting Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan also attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in a bid to attract foreign investment.

The Bishops have also put a call to “all people to exercise tolerance towards each other and to express their constitutional rights in a peaceful and nonviolent manner.”

“We urge you to always shun violence and be mindful to respect everyone’s rights, especially those who do not agree with you.”

“Even in the midst of current tensions and disturbances there are new opportunities to rebuild hope, trust, confidence and stability in our country. The task at hand requires our collective responsibility in upholding everything that is good and right, to promote unity, reconciliation, and national cohesion.”

 "Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity" (Ps133)

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