By Anna Chibamu
POLITICIANS, civic and workers groups Sunday rallied behind the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC) which came under attack from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government for authoring a damning condemnation of the Zanu PF led administration’s excesses, corruption and economic mess.
In a pastoral letter last Friday, the bishops called for an urgent solution to Zimbabwe’s mounting political and economic crises.
“The struggle in Zimbabwe has resulted in a multi-layered crisis of convergence of economic collapse, deepening poverty, food insecurity and human rights abuses,” the clergymen said.
They were being led by ZCBC president, Robert Ndlovu.
Zimbabweans have been protesting against government corruption and a deepening economic crisis with inflation hovering above 800%.
The demonstrations have been foiled by state security.
However, in response to the pastoral letter, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa issued a chilling warning against the men of the cloth describing them as “genocidal and evil-minded misled flock of misled narrow-minded bishops”.
The attack by government has brought massive support for the Catholic bishops with the opposition MDC Alliance calling the comments “incendiary hate speech” and “unacceptable”.
“The singling out of a Ndebele archbishop (Robert Ndlovu) is discrimination on tribal grounds,” tweeted MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere, warning against reviving of Zimbabwe’s “history of genocide”.
In the early 1980s, thousands of civilians – mainly ethnic Ndebeles – were killed in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces when the late former president Robert Mugabe’s military butchered civilians while accusing them of harbouring armed army deserters during a period commonly known as Gukurahundi.
Mugabe targeted the Ndebeles then as he perceived them to be backing the opposition.
Many Zimbabweans have since blasted Minister Mutsvangwa for “dangerous hate speech”.
In a statement Sunday, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) said the group welcomed the pastoral letter and called on the government to “retract the hate-filled” statement.
“We are, however, appalled that such a message of peace, solidarity with the poor and a call for opponents to dialogue has been met with hate and venom from the government. The government chose to attack the bishops calling them ‘evil’ and ‘genocidal’. The response did not address any of the issues raised by the bishops.
“We are concerned at the use of hate speech against the bishops, especially the ethnic attack on the person, identify and dignity of the Archbishop of Harare Robert Ndlovu.
“We condemn this attack. It is unwarranted and unjustifiable. We call upon the government to retract the hate-filled statement and urgently heed the call by the bishops for urgent dialogue before it is too late,” said ZimRights.
The Platform for Concerned Citizens (PCC) also condemned government for hate speech.
“This is a scurrilous attack on the Catholic Church, one of the strongest domestic supporters of the people of Zimbabwe, which has maintained this support for decades, both before and after Independence.
“The ZCBC’s commitment to the people of Zimbabwe cannot be doubted or challenged by anyone, except self-serving hypocrites.
“Thus, we call on all churches, national and regional, to express their support for the ZCBC, to express their distaste of the intolerance shown by Zanu PF and the government of Zimbabwe, to citizens exercising their constitutional rights.”
The Catholic Professionals Network of Zimbabwe (CPNZ) said the bishops were their shepherds and are duty-bound to warn those in authority in times of strife.
“The bishops as our shepherds are duty-bound to call out those in authority in situations of widespread poverty, endemic corruption, human rights violations, poor health delivery especially in times of a huge pandemic, political instability, and uncertainty.
“We note with dismay the statement by Minister Mutsvangwa as it appeared to be an angry and rushed response to the temperate and clear call to government made via the pastoral letter. We condemn the very misplaced unwarranted attack on Archbishop Robert Ndlovu whose ethnicity is needlessly brought to the fore and singled out for a venomous attack as if the letter was his own initiative,” stated the CPNZ.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said there was no justification for the vilification of the clergymen and the anti-Catholic scorn saying the bishops were speaking out against transgressions and it is their moral obligation.
“As ZLHR, we are greatly concerned that the intolerance of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government on dissent and criticism is becoming more despicable every passing day and we should realise that it is the manifestation the President and his followers’ fear on the people’s legitimate dissatisfaction from a leader who claimed and promised to be a ‘listening’ President which is equally growing,” said the lawyers group.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) described government’s utterances as “pathetic and unwarranted”.
“The evil attack by government of Zimbabwe is pathetic and unwarranted. The Bishops expressed what citizens of Zimbabwe feel and shooting the messenger using tribal hate speech exposes the failure of the state,” it said.
MDC Alliance co-vice president Welshman Ncube said; “I have read and re-read the government of Zimbabwe’s response to the Catholic bishop’s pastoral letter and remain beyond shock that there is a government on earth in the 21st Century that can release this kind of hurtful drivel as an official government statement. God Help us!”
An anonymous member of the Catholic Church criticised Mutsvangwa for “attacking our bishops, you have attacked us all, The Catholic church has got millions of Zimbabweans who subscribe to it including Zanu PF members, Vice President Guvheya (Constantino) Chiwenga is a Catholic, many government officials are Catholics. The Catholic Church is not a political party but it is a Church of Christ”.
“You have declared war on the church and it is very unacceptable. Zanu PF is not a demi-god, allow constructive criticism and the country will move forward. As Catholics, we don’t take orders from you Mrs Mutsvangwa but we take orders from our bishops who lead us to Christ,” he said.
Lawyer and human rights defender Brian Kagoro said; “#AfricanLivesMatter. Any leadership that feels so powerful that it can insult all citizens, insult churches, insult neighbours, insult foreigners, and insult its own members is either All-Mighty (in a divine sense) or downright stupid. You need friends.”
Meanwhile, responding to the attacks by government, the Catholic Lawyers Guild said they were shocked by the government’s blatant denials that the country was in a deep crisis.
“We as the Catholic Lawyers Guild are deeply concerned by the government of Zimbabwe’s unwarranted vitriolic attack on the pastoral letter issued by the ZCBC,” the Catholic lawyers said at a press conference in Harare Sunday.
According to the lawyers, the pastoral letter simply, “denounced the current human rights situation in the country”.
The lawyers have since demanded an apology and retraction from the government and demanded assurance that no harm will befall the bishops.