Fr Joe Arimoso SJ – Harare, Zimbabwe.
After the “soft coup” which saw the stepping down of Zimbabwe’s former President, Robert Mugabe, after all the unforgettable euphoria on the streets, the world has been keeping an eye on Zimbabwe. The anticipation was heightened by the announcement that we would indeed have our first elections without Mugabe. It has been an exciting road as we, for the first time in many years, had peaceful campaigns with the international observers and journalists being allowed to roam the country freely. There was a general sense of “moving on” and leaving the past behind. The nation had convinced itself that this was a Kairos moment and the social media was abuzz with a sense of a new beginning.
These elections were always going to be complicated
However, for anybody who reflected deeply about the situation, it was clear that these elections were always going to be complicated regardless of who won. What was going to be the role of the army in this new chapter? Was the army going to accept a winner who did not take part in the ousting of Mugabe? The demographic trends of supporters at the rallies hinted at the underlying complication. Most of the young people, the urban, jobless graduates thronged the opposition rallies and these were the ones who were hyper on social media, already setting up a tone of victory. On the other hand the elderly in the rural areas, the less sophisticated, and perhaps carrying the memories of past elections, faithfully gathered as well in their numbers in support of the ruling party.
The complication did not take long to manifest itself when, after the first part of the results was announced, the opposition party members took haste to flood the streets in protest. The protest may have been meant to be peaceful but peace could not prevail. The army stepped in and the 1st August ended in tragedy with six people dead, shot by the very army with whom they had celebrated the ousting of Mugabe. Last year, in November, the people were taking Selfies with the army.
A daunting task: The Church in Zimbabwe needs to emphasise unity, peace and tolerance
Now that the incumbent President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has been declared winner of the tight presidential race, scraping through with slightly more than half of the votes, the Church finds itself with the daunting task to unite its children and to re-emphasise the values of unity, forgiveness, tolerance, political maturity and peace. In fact, the Church had already anticipated this complicated situation when in the pastoral letter of the Bishops “Opening a New Door” which was published on the 29 June 2018, said, “It is the nature of free and fair elections that no individual or small group should be able to determine the results. It is certain therefore that some will be disappointed. The issues that face us are not simple, and we are divided in our opinions about the way forward…” Yes, we are divided even in the Church, particularly on how the country can move forward. Many are frustrated with what has happened especially the young people. Some of our youths were engaged in the posting of messages which bordered between a genuine expression of frustration and an unChristian response to a situation.
Healing a fractured society
Perhaps then the first step is for the Church to reflect deeply on how it can begin the healing of a fractured society internally. Can the Church transform its individuals so that they become wounded healers in this fragmented society? It is clear though that the Church is conscious of its role in bringing about cohesion in the country. The pastoral letter before the elections is testimony of that. The Church demonstrated that it cannot remain silent in the face of the challenging situations which threaten the country, and it was unambiguous in its message of peace and unity. And now that we have a situation where the winner had almost half of the voters not voting for him, we need an urgent response to encourage all parties to find a way of working together to forge unity. We cannot afford to sustain any grudges which will ground any meaningful development.
There is need for a holistic national peace and reconciliation process
However, the bigger task will have to go beyond these elections and find a way of healing an already fragile society. The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe (CCJPZ) were right in their press statement on the 4 August that “…Zimbabwe’s crisis is deeper than those emanating from the elections. There is need for a holistic national peace and reconciliation process that goes beyond electoral disputes.”
This is exactly what Zimbabwe needs and the Church can take the lead in the process. The Church is strategically placed as it runs different institutions like parishes, schools, hospitals and social and spiritual centres where people interact regardless of their political opinions and affiliation. The Church also has to be humble to acknowledge many other civil organisations fighting for the same cause and joint hands with them. Together with these other organisations, we also need to deal with the issues of addressing corruption and building responsible leadership. If the healing process can start with this initiative, through deliberate formation programmes on peace, reconciliation and responsible leadership, the future generations will find a comfortable space to exercise their constitutional rights and shape their own future.