VICE-PRESIDENT Constantino Chiwenga was yesterday taken to task by Roman Catholic bishops, who demanded answers over the recent military crackdown, which claimed 12 lives following bloody clashes between citizens and State security agents.
The prolonged blitz, which followed a stayaway organised by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) two weeks ago, put the country back into the international limelight as pictures and videos of the military and police brutalising people went viral on social media platforms before government shut down the Internet.
Chiwenga, who was accompanied by Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri and Central Intelligence Organisation director-general Isaac Moyo, to a meeting held at Africa Synod offices in Harare, was grilled by the church leaders, who demanded to know what caused the recent protests as well as the state of the economy.
Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference secretary-general Reverend Father Fredrick Chiromba said the church quizzed Chiwenga and his delegation on what provoked the protests.
“We wanted to get an understanding on the current situation, what we need to do as a nation, things like national cohesion,” he told NewsDay Weekender.
“I wouldn’t want to get into details at this stage, but it was about getting clarification. In fact, we will be engaging further on these issues. It is the beginning of a process that I wouldn’t want to pre-empt at the moment. It was simply to get an understanding on what provoked this situation and get answers why we are where we are and moving on, how government and the church can collaborate so that we move beyond this situation to a Zimbabwe we want.”
Two weeks ago, violent protests erupted in the country following the decision by government to hike the price of fuel by 150%.
At least 12 people were killed by security forces, while more than 70 had gunshot wounds.
The military has maintained a heavy presence in most residential areas and reports of rape have been raised.
The Catholic bishops said they were concerned with the state of the economy and wanted to help as the church in crisis management.
Chiwenga went to the meeting armed with a detailed response on how government was handling the issues.
The VP said he took the meeting as a platform to share ideas with the church on governance and how the State ought to conduct itself.
“We need to brief them about what we are doing in the economy … what we want to do about our relations between the church and the government. I am Catholic myself and we have always done this,” Chiwenga said, as he avoided taking questions on the meeting.
Human rights groups and civic organisations, including the United Nations, have raised concern over the way government responded to the protests.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) will on February 7 bring different political parties to the table to launch the national consensus-building campaign, which is aimed at initiating dialogue on the country’s political and economic problems.
Zimbabwe Congress of Churches (ZCC) general-secretary Reverend Kenneth Mtata yesterday disclosed that currently, there was no alternative to dialogue pertaining to the country’s problems.
He said even if the church was calling for dialogue, the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission must be allowed to take the lead and formulate the technical aspects of how it would be done.
Mtata told delegates at the discussion forum organised by the Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum (Zinef) and the ZCC that there was need for national consensus and buy-in from the different political parties (Zanu PF) and the opposition, which seem to be singing different tunes pertaining to national dialogue.
“What has been done so far is that the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) must take the lead in this process and they are working with churches and other bodies to initiate the process,” Mtata said.
“If we are going to have national dialogue, we must agree on the process and who guarantees the dialogue outcomes because they must be binding, and we need to agree on who is going to convene this national dialogue.
“As ZCC, we have interacted with political parties and right now we have invited political parties for prayers and ZHOCD is going to launch the national consensus-building campaign.”
He lambasted what he termed as “greed” by political parties which seemed to be calling for dialogue on one hand, but on the other, they also push for their political party interests, which he said ends up hindering the progress on initiating dialogue.
“For those in government, dialogue might be seen as a sign that they are weak and that they have failed, and a sign of giving up authority in government.
"But dialogue is a means by which people can find a way of saying ‘where are we as a nation’? That is why it is important for the media to create an atmosphere for dialogue,” the cleric said.
“At the same time, there are people in the opposition who say dialogue is not necessary, and that if we do not assist government, it will collapse. People that think that if government collapses, then we will have another democratic alternative are wrong. In fact, if the system collapses, then what emerges is someone who has guns and power.”