For more than 20 years Zimbabwe’s main challenges have been economic and political, and especially the abuse of power by those in political leadership positions. There is a school of thought which argues that such challenges are technical and all that is needed are technical experts to fix Zimbabwe’s social and political systems. Indeed technical experts are needed and can help find solutions to salvage our nation from this chronic mismanagement of our national resources.
But a serious observer of the situation in Zimbabwe will soon find out that the social, economic and political challenges we have today are only the tip of the iceberg. We have a very deep spiritual and moral crisis in Zimbabwe which explains why our nation has become so corrupt thriving on political patronage. This has resulted in a society marred by all forms of injustice without regard for human dignity, • a society whose political system promotes lawlessness, violence, harassment, denial of food to the hungry to name but a few;• a nation with many displaced persons – now around 500,000 in number;• a political system that has total disregard for democratic principles as became obvious in the recent elections;• in short: a system that has robbed its people of their human rights.
Christians understand human rights as a God given gift. Every person has a right to live a meaningful and purposeful life including the right to food, shelter, healthcare, employment and education – all these rights are being violated in Zimbabwe. Here lies the basis of our challenge – it is both spiritual and moral.
Where the spiritual and moral fibre of society are undermined, basic human values have also ceased to exist. How else can it be explained that some of our people have been mutilated during this year’s election campaign, others were left to die? People’s homesteads and food storages were destroyed resulting in an unbearable situation for the affected families. There is indeed need to remind our people that there will be no peace in Zimbabwe until we all come to a full realisation that no political solution can be found unless it creates a system with a human face. That is why I repeat that we are faced with a spiritual and moral crisis in Zimbabwe.
What is the mission of the church in such a context? The mission of the church is to announce the good news in any given situation –good news that brings about freedom to the oppressed, food to the starving, medication to the sick, shelter to the homeless, protection to the vulnerable children and abused members of the community etc.
The human rights of the majority of people in Zimbabwe are violated thereby denying them a meaningful life. This majority lacks everything except the air they breathe while on the other hand the minority who benefit from political patronage have easy access to all the resources and material needs that make life easier.
In actual fact Zimbabwe today is a lawless state where the perpetrators of violence and even murder are never arrested or brought to book. The judicial system itself is manipulated and leaves a lot to be desired. The police are feared by the public because of their ruthlessness and brutality as we in the Anglican Diocese of Harare continue to experience whereby we are driven out from our church buildings during services and are thus denied freedom of worship as our human right. When police officers abuse the law they are supposed to protect, then you know that there is no law anymore to protect the public. This all happens with full backing from the political leadership some of whom are Anglicans but put their allegiance to their political party above their allegiance to their church and their Christian faith.
The church has the responsibility to remind those in positions of power of their duty to respect and uphold human rights of all its citizens regardless of social status, gender, religion, ethnicity or political affiliation, and where these are denied the church becomes the voice of the voiceless. However the voice of the church in Zimbabwe has not been loud enough to condemn the evil system that our people experience daily. Here I salute Archbp Pius Ncube who had the courage to speak out on behalf of the voiceless. But you all know what sacrifice he had to make. And to make it worse the church did not stand up in solidarity with him when character assassination was meted out against him. The voice of the church appears to be submerged by other noises which include violence, intimidation, arrests and other forms of harassment. The voice of the church has not been loud enough to condemn such behaviour. Some clergy who have tried to speak out against the unjust political system have been seriously warned and often silenced.
The church runs 80% of the schools in the nation. But off late children have not been going to school or teachers have refused to teach them because of poor wages paid by the government, - and again the church has remained silent where it had the right to speak out as a partner in education.
Similarly the church has traditionally had a strong commitment to health but has not condemned the total collapse of the health sector with major hospitals being closed down. Should we in the church turn a blind eye on such an appalling state of affairs? Indeed many people begin to ask: What is the role of the church? Is it to support the government regardless of bad governance and economic mismanagement? Certainly not!
The church has a prophetic ministry to offer, and this is not usually popular with those in power. The voice of the church should be heard -• Calling for justice in our dealings with one another so that all members of society have equal opportunities and access to all national resources• Calling for freedom of speech and social harmony• Calling for genuine peace in the midst of political polarisation• Being a voice that instils in all persons a desire to lead a truthful life marked by integrity rather than corruption• A voice that condemns Christians who apply double standards – one for Sunday service in church and another for the rest of the week accompanied by corrupt and unjust practises.
With these few examples we may conclude by saying that the church has not listened to God enough to pass on the message to his people.
The story of Moses in the Old Testament at the site of the burning bush is a case in point: Moses listened to God saying: I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt, I have heard them cry out because of the slave drivers, and I am concerned: Go assemble the elders of Israel and say to them that I have promised to bring you out of misery. We in the church are reminded of a God who is not indifferent to the oppressed. He sees the misery of his people who do not hear His voice. We do not seem to be sure about our calling, and so we remain silent. In our silence we bury God’s voice because it is uncomfortable. We fear to face the Pharaoh in Egypt. We have adopted survival skills. We even obey orders from a leadership we know to be working against the will of God. But God wants us to love one another, care for each other, and respect human life.
The gospel message which we are expected to proclaim with a loud voice is about justice, peace, love and truth. These themes do not appear to be heard loudly in our nation.
During the March and June elections some of our people in rural areas suffered serious atrocities, such as torture including murder. Others were made homeless and became displaced persons. The main reason for this torture and harassment being that these people did not vote for the right party. Here is a classic example of the denial of human freedom of choice. In this instance the voice condemning such atrocities came from civic organisations whose members suffered arrests, and closure of their offices – as happened to the Lawyers for Human Rights.
What the people in Zimbabwe need today are individuals who stand up and condemn what they see as unjust political system that limits people’s freedom. The 20th century history presents us with outstanding individuals who stood up for human rights: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Per Anger, Dietrich Boenhoeffer, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu - to name but a few. These persons stood up as individuals to condemn evil as they saw it. Today we need individuals with open eyes • to see the maimed persons in hospital with open wounds without medicine• to see the child dying of hunger on the street• to see the displaced family sleeping by the road side without shelter • to feel the pain inflicted on humanity by fellow humans.
Unless the both the church and individuals speak out with loud voices condemning an inhuman political system that disregards the principles of democracy, dictatorship will be with us for a long time to come. Elsewhere on the continent of Africa dictatorships and evil ideologies have been dismantled by churches taking a clear position. I am thinking here of the churches of South Africa, Kenya and Malawi to mention but a few.
As we discuss issues related to human rights, let us focus on each person as a child of God whose dignity is God given, a dignity not derived from any human quality, not from a particular race, age, sex or social status, let alone from the powers that be, but a human dignity that is God given and belongs to God alone.