CATHOLIC bishops in the country have called President Emmerson Mnangagwa to order over escalating human rights abuses and worsening political and economic situation in the country, and warned him that his attempts to muzzle angry voices would only make matters worse.
In a pastoral letter of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference on the current situation in Zimbabwe released yesterday, the bishops from across the country also endorsed the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign that put on spotlight the human rights abuses in the country.
The letter was signed by Robert Ndlovu, Archbishop of Harare, Alex Thomas, Archbishop of Bulawayo, Paul Horan and Bishop of Mutare, who are the conference’s president, vice-president and secretary respectively.
Others who signed the letter are Michael Bhasera (Bishop Masvingo), Albert Serrano (Bishop Hwange), Rudolf Nyandoro (Bishop Gokwe) and Raymond Mupandasekwa (Bishop Chinhoyi).
“The struggle in Zimbabwe, between those who think they have arrived and those on the march, has resulted in a multi-layered crisis of the convergence of economic collapse, deepening poverty, food insecurity, corruption and human rights abuses among other crises in urgent need of resolution,” the bishops’ letter read in part.
“The call for demonstrations is the expression of growing frustration and aggravation caused by the conditions that the majority of Zimbabweans themselves are in. Suppression of people’s anger can only serve to deepen the crisis and take the nation into deeper crisis.”
Zimbabwe is in the grip of its worst political and economic crises in a decade that has seen doctors and nurses at public health institutions down tools, shortages of medicines and foreign currency while wages are failing to keep up with rampaging inflation which was recorded at 737,26% in June.
Mnangagwa blames the opposition, Western sanctions, civic organisations and natural causes such as drought, cyclones and the COVID-19 pandemic for the problems.
Last month, he deployed security forces to block planned opposition protests over corruption and the worsening economic hardships, with critics saying he was using the lockdown restrictions to lock human rights.
Over 60 opposition members were abducted and tortured ahead of the planned protests, while over 30 went into hiding.
A social media campaign #ZimbabweanLivesMatter hashtag, which has been trending triggered by an angry reaction to rights abuses in the country by South African opposition leaders, last week forced South African leader Cyril Ramaphosa to deploy special envoys to the country.
The bishops yesterday endorsed the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign, despite Mnangagwa saying there was no crisis in the country.
“The voices of various governments, the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations on the desperate situation in Zimbabwe have not only confirmed the seriousness of human rights breaches by government agents but the need to rally behind #ZimbabweanLivesMatter.”
The bishops said Mnangagwa had missed an opportunity to right the wrongs in Zimbabwe by blocking Ramaphosa’s envoys from meeting the opposition and other key stakeholders.
“Their failure to make broad consultations with the church and civic society at this most tempestuous time was most regrettable. Was this not an opportunity missed?” they queried.
The on-going crackdown on dissenting voices, the bishops said, was not an indication of the Zimbabwe people want.
“In the meantime, some of our people continue to live in hideouts, with some incarcerated, while others are on the run. Fear runs down the spine of many of our people today. The crackdown on dissent is unprecedented. Is this the Zimbabwe we want? To have a different opinion does not mean to be an enemy,” the bishops said.
This was in apparent reference to incarcerated journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume and dozens of opposition activists and civic society leaders.
Several MDC Alliance leaders are currently in hiding, along with journalist Mduduzi Mathuthu, famed for exposing the COVID-19 looting scandal involving members of Mnangagwa’s family and their close associates.
“It is precisely from the contrast of opinions that the light comes. Our government automatically labels anyone thinking differently as an enemy of the country: That is an abuse.”
Quoting scriptures, the Bishops said the corruption in the country has reached alarming levels but there has not been clear determination to fight the scourge.
“We want our politics to build a united nation and not to divide us, turning the military who ought to continue the memory of the late heroes against the people who fed them and clothed them and who gathered intelligence at great risk and saved many of our fighters from peril,” they said.
“As your bishops, we feel that this described situation is true of Zimbabwe. It feels as though the poor have no one to defend them. They don’t seem to feature on the national agenda. Their cries for an improved health system go unheeded. Their plea for a transport system that meets their transport blues are met with promises and more promises and no action.”
They added: “The only time we see real action is when our leaders are jostling for power.”
The clerics said while some fellow African countries were strengthening their democratic institutions, Zimbabwe was busy weakening its institutions.
“Refusal to listen to the people has led us to where we are today,” the church leaders said.
The bishops said there was need for a comprehensive national settlement plan involving civic society, churches, business and professional bodies, among others.