The end does not justify the means; Bishops' statement on current affairs and Mugabe's death

…but ask “What went wrong?”

By Kudakwashe Matambo 

While the nation, and perhaps the African Continent is mourning  the passing of former President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Robert Gabriel Mugabe who passed away on the 6th of September 2019, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishop’s Conference (ZCBC) has released a pastoral statement titled ‘The end does not justify the means' about the current state of affairs.


The conference’s statement, ‘The end does not justify the means,’ is christened after an immensely influential (Catholic) philosopher, theologian , St Thomas Aquinas’ teaching that "an evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention" (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6).  


In the statement released on the 11th of September 2019, the ZCBC begins by extending condolences to Mugabe's immediate and extended family, the government of Zimbabwe and all the bereaved before addressing issues about the current state of affairs in the country.


What went wrong?

In the statement, the Bishops' conference express their agreement with a number of praises that have been showered on the former President as an educationist, a liberation war hero and a recognised ‘Pan-Africanist.’


But before long into the statement, they question his legacy, one that has been widely termed a conflicted legacy, by asking ‘What went wrong?’


“We, the Bishops of the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe, agree with most of these attributes but they also raise a key question, ‘What went wrong?” reads the statement signed by the country’s bishops.


“The intentions and the objectives were good but the manner of achieving them raised a number of ethical questions. This is where we, as a country, went wrong and continue to go wrong to this day,” it reads.


In many forums, scores of people are arguing by taking several view points on the legacy of Robert Gabriel Mugabe. The war is far from ending on whether Mugabe was and should be considered a Hero or a Villain in his political career, which ended in November 2017 after a military assisted change and his ultimate resignation.


Reflecting on the Tanzanian Bishops Conference’s decision to start the cause for sainthood for the former President, now Servant of God, Mwalimu K. Julius Nyerere (who led Tanzania from 1964 -1985), ZCBC Secretary General Fr Fradereck Chiromba showed no hope for the same for Mugabe.


He said Mugabe, in terms of personal development and what he intended to achieve (especially in the early years of independence), had the same mindset that could be thought of ‘in the lines of Catholic perspectives’, as the same with Julius Nyerere, but then did things differently. 


“He had the same mindset of Julius Nyerere, whose cause is being considered for beatification because of the way he led Tanzania during his time. When you look into the attributes of President Mugabe he could have been in the same mold for beatification but the manner in which things were done, as the statement says, raises ethical questions which makes it difficult to really begin a cause,” said Fr Chiromba.


Mugabe and the Church

Educated by the Catholic Church in his rural Zvimba district, at Kutama Mission, Mugabe remained ‘conscious of the efforts of the Church’ and even sent his children to Catholic Schools like the Dominican Convent and St Georges College in Harare. 


He is credited for supporting various projects in the Church's role in providing universal and quality education in primary and secondary schools as well as vocational training colleges. 


“Going to back to the early years of independence, he expanded education, making it easily accessible especially in rural areas and even in health care, we were doing well until the 1990s when the country started to deteriorate,” said Fr Chiromba.


“He was supportive of the efforts of the Church. If things were brought to his attention he would attend to it immediately. There are many Church institutions that he supported,” he added.


Even though the earlier period had its own challenges like the Gukurahundi, the country seemed to be on a positive trajectory unlike the later years. 


Fr Chiromba said on the part of the Bishop’s conference, Mugabe would largely listen to the Church.


“I remember particularly one meeting in 2006 when the Church wanted to launch the discussion on the document 'The Zimbabwe We Want,' his advisors were against the launch and the publication of the document, but he stood by the Church saying this is the opinion of the Church so we should simply publish the opinion as it is without diluting it, unlike what his advisors were telling him.”


The document went on to be published with its contentious content, critical of his administration. 


Conflicts with the Church

 “There were a few challenges. You will remember him calling the Bishops a bunch of Jeremiahs after they had published a challenging pastoral letter,” recalled Fr Chiromba. 


“Unfortunately the channels of communication were not always open, and sometimes the conference would have to resort to pastoral letters but on the whole there was mutual understanding.”


After releasing a pastoral statement in 2007,  which spelt out that economic hardship and political repression by the government had led to widespread anger, and the country in “extreme danger,” Mugabe vehemently criticised the bishops’ move. 


In anger Mugabe said, “and once they turn political, we regard them as no longer being spiritual and our relations with them would be conducted as if we are dealing with political entities, and this is quite a dangerous path they have chosen for themselves.”


“They have gone wrong, sadly, very sadly. This is an area we warn them not to tread. It was a sorry letter, a disgraceful piece of work, an error, a disastrous error and we shall tell them when we meet them,” Mugabe said in remarks broadcast on state television.


The end does not justify the means

Quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and from the writing of St Thomas Aquinas, the bishops said a morally good act requires the goodness of its end and that evil actions must not be used to justify good intentions. 


“An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention" (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6). The end does not justify the means. A morally good act requires the goodness of its object, of its end, and of its circumstances together.” (CCC n. 1759-1760)


The statement went further to condemn reported abductions, beatings, sexual assaults and harassment of ordinary Zimbabweans.


“We are deeply concerned about the reported nocturnal visits by unknown masked men, beatings, torture, sexual assaults, abductions, harassment of dissenting voices and violent repression of demonstrations by Police. Such acts contradict the positive narrative of Zimbabwe’s Second Republic, have no place in a democratic society and there should be no impunity for those who commit these crimes. The end, in this case the purported peace, does not justify the means.”

 The Bishops also condemned xenophobic attacks in neighbouring South Africa, which have led to more than ten lives being lost and hundreds affected. They say, ‘the end does not justify the means’ and that “attacks on fellow Africans are not the answer” to the variety of economic and political insecurity.