New era of partnership in Zim

The past few weeks have portended potentially mutually beneficial cooperation between the State and the Church for the good of all Zimbabweans following President Robert Mugabe’s entreaty to Christian leaders to join hands with the government, rather than opposing it at every turn.

At a groundbreaking meeting held at State House bringing the two parties together on 25 May, 2006, President Mugabe said: “We said from the onset when we were fighting the struggle that our ideology was that the church and the State should be partners. Even education in the early days came from missionaries and not the State.”

After the meeting, Bishop Trevor Manhanga said as a representative of a body bringing together 130 church denominations in the country, he had a mandate to assist in finding a lasting solution to the problems bedevilling his flock.

As expected, there has been a lot of opposition to the move by the Churches but the Christian leaders have stood firm and said they would not be drawn into attacking a democratically elected government when they would rather be trying to find ways to improve the livelihoods of ordinary Zimbabweans.

Bishop Manhanga said: “This is not cosying up to the government. We are trying to have an honest interaction looking for a solution.”

The president of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, Anglican Bishop Peter Nempare was even more explicit when he said: “We know we have a government that we must support, interact with and draw attention to concerns,” while Bishop Densen Mafinyane ‘ the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches ‘ added: “We love Zimbabwe and support your government efforts.”

Since then, the Anglican Archbishop of Central Africa, Zambia’s Bernard Malanga has also paid a courtesy call on President Mugabe in a move observers said indicated a notable strengthening in ties between the State and the Church for the sake of nation-building and development.

Not all religious leaders have appreciated the need for Church-State cooperation with perennial government critic Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube accusing President Mugabe of using “divide and rule tactics” and of bribing influential Church leaders like Anglican Bishop Nolbert Kunonga.

Archbishop Ncube ‘ who is on record praying for the President’s death ‘ said: “The Church has let down the people very greatly by siding with Mugabe ‘ hook, line and sinker.”

The less-known Zimbabwe Christian Alliance waded into the fray and said the Church leaders should have told President Mugabe that the country was in turmoil because of “bad governance, unjust laws, lack of integrity, and the unfair distribution of resources”.

However, Bishop Manhanga has pointed out that what was important was to find a way to make this a better Zimbabwe instead of wasting time and energy on unconstructive criticism that only serves fuel tension and polarisation of Christians.

He said: “Better is someone who is doing something to alleviate the suffering of our people than one who is busy tracking to see how wrong the process is.”

He said their aim was not to speak on behalf of any political grouping but to attempt to find avenues through which the Church and the State could work together.

Bishop Manhanga added the meeting afforded the Church an opportunity to become a part of the national and international bridge-building agenda.

Reverend Obadiah Msindo, who has himself been labelled a Zanu-PF apologist added to this saying: “The role of the Church in the nation building agenda is to encourage unity and foster development. It should not matter which political party one supports but we all have a duty to do the best we can to improve Zimbabwe’s situation.

“The Church should not act like a political party but a partner in the framework of national development. To this end, the National Day of Prayer should be about asking for forgiveness for past sins for all parties, especially those that prayed for our suffering.”

The Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ) and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) had indicated that they would be meeting the MDC pro-Senate leadership.

Tellingly, the two representative bodies had made it clear that they would urge the opposition to halt all calls for sanctions on Zimbabwe and in fact implore them to talk to the European Union, the United States, Australia and New Zealand to lift the illegal sanctions regime slapped on the country.

University of Zimbabwe academic Nedson Pophiwa said the move by the Churches was laudable and the fact that President Mugabe had “demonstrated humility in accepting that cooperation with diverse groupings and divine intervention were needed” set the tone for recovery through constructive engagement.

He, however, noted that it was strange that there were people who panicked whenever the government made overtures to groups formerly thought to be anti-establishment, saying: “It is amazing that there are people who appear to panic whenever sincere offers of partnership in the nation building agenda are extended to government by local and foreign groups.

“These people who say the Church leaders who have pledged to help build Zimbabwe have been bribed or that they are sell-outs are the real sell-outs. They are more interested in seeing Zimbabwe becoming more and more isolated than in ameliorating the economic and social situation prevailing in the country.”

Pophiwa added that Zimbabwe had seen a “proliferation of individuals and organisations that prayed for the country’s continued suffering as they benefited from this” and they hoped that their destabilisation efforts would be well-rewarded if the political party of their choice got into power.

Bodies such as the ZCC can be powerful political forces whenever they choose to and this is best seen in the role this organisation played in Zimbabwe’s constitutional reform lobby a few years ago.

The ZCC basically brought the issue of reform onto the public agenda and the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) is essentially a by-product of the Church body’s political lobbying.

However, the ZCC pulled out when it realised that the Constitutional reform lobby had assumed negative regime change undertones.

It is to this end that observers foresee great things coming from a Church-State partnership for national development.

July 2006
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