Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
“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. It is precisely from the contrast of opinion that the light comes. Our government automatically labels anyone thinking differently as an enemy of the country: that is an abuse,” said the Bishops in a Pastoral Letter released Friday. The letter is signed by all the country’s Catholic Bishops.
Suppression of people’s anger leads to a profound crisis
The Bishops add, “The call for demonstrations is the expression of growing frustration and aggravation caused by the conditions that the majority of Zimbabweans find themselves in. Suppression of people’s anger can only serve to deepen the crisis and take the nation into deeper crisis.”
The Government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa has widely been criticised for human rights abuses that have seen the country’s police and military unleashed on activists, journalists as well as the public. Several observers, such as Amnesty International, -all paint a climate of fear and brutal repression; forced disappearances, arrests, street abductions, and torture of the government’s critics.
The government’s crackdown on peaceful protests has given rise to the hashtag, #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, inspired no doubt by the global movement, #BlackLivesMatter.
Among those still detained, in Zimbabwe, are Hopewell Chin’ono, an awarding-winning journalist. Also, in detention together with many others is Jacob Ngarivhume, leader of Transform Zimbabwe. The two high profile detainees have been charged with inciting public protests and violence.
Lawyers from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said detainees were being held in inhuman prison conditions.
Earlier, Zimbabwean President Mnangagwa, appeared to rebuff South Africa’s attempts to mediate and help ease the country’s crisis. Zimbabwe’s Catholic Bishops describe the failure of South Africa’s emissaries to meet with Church and civil society as regrettable and probably an opportunity missed.
A leadership that blames everyone but itself
According to the Bishops, the country’s political leadership needs to take full responsibility and stop blaming others for the country’s misfortunes.
“It is not clear to us as your Bishops that the national leadership we have has the knowledge, social skills, emotional stability and social orientation to handle the issues that we face as a nation. All we hear from them is blame of our woes on foreigners, colonialism, white settlers, and the so-called internal detractors. When are we going to take responsibility? While our neighbours in the region are strengthening their democratic institutions, we seem to be weakening ours,” reads the Pastoral Letter, in part.
During COVID-19, where does a nation turn to?
“In the face of growing numbers of COVID-19 infections, where does the nation turn to? With the necessary tools in short supply in our hospitals, we notice with wounded hearts, that government officials seem to have more PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) than our nurses and doctors,” observe the Bishops.
The march is never ended
“We make an urgent plea to peace and national building through inclusive engagement, dialogue and collective responsibility for transformation. We are also conscious that the COVID-19 pandemic will expose us to new challenges for the foreseeable future. Indeed, as John Lewis (the African American politician and civil rights leader) realised, the march is never ended, but together we will overcome,” said the Zimbabwe prelates.