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church official says elections don't help starving people
Bronwen Dachs, Catholic News Service (CNS)
December 05, 2005
CAPE TOWN, South
Africa (CNS) -- The estimated 10 percent voter turnout in Zimbabwe's
elections for a new Senate was not surprising as the country's food,
fuel and foreign currency shortages worsen, said Alouis Chaumba,
who heads Zimbabwe's Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.
"We are tired of elections," he said in a telephone interview from
the capital, Harare, noting that "they are definitely not adding
value to our lives here."
The Nov. 26 election for the 66-seat Senate, which will have the
final word on new laws, "is seen as just another walkover for the
ruling party," Chaumba said. "Of far more relevance to our lives
is the fact that prices are going up every day and basic groceries
are beyond the reach of most" of Zimbabwe's 12 million people, he
said, noting that "there are people starving in the drier regions
of the country."
With laws that guarantee seats to various ruling party loyalists
and a boycott campaign by the main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai,
President Robert Mugabe's governing ZANU-PF party was set to win
before voting started.
The poll follows the March 2005 general election in which 81-year-old
Mugabe, who has ruled the southern African country since independence
from Britain in 1980, was re-elected.
"The government should be focusing on the crisis the country is
in, not more elections," Chaumba said.
Mugabe's much criticized land redistribution program -- which has
disrupted agricultural production -- and recurring droughts are
widely blamed for the severe food shortages.
Most Zimbabweans are "living in destitution and desperation," the
Harare-based Zimbabwe National Pastors' Conference said in a statement.
"We are amazed at the patience of the people of Zimbabwe who have
remained composed under the current economic conditions of impoverishment,"
The statement has the support of the Catholic Commission for Justice
and Peace, Chaumba said, adding that "we fully understand the plight
of workers in Zimbabwe because most of them are members of our congregations."
The conference said it was "very concerned about the heavy-handed
manner" in which the police and army in early November disrupted
"what was evidently a peaceful procession" organized by the Zimbabwe
Congress of Trade Unions to highlight an unemployment rate of about
80 percent and the rocketing cost of living.
The pastors said they "identify with workers in Zimbabwe when they
mobilize themselves in peaceful protests in the face of socioeconomic
conditions that are increasingly depriving them of their God-given
rights and dignity."
Several trade union leaders and about 100 members were arrested
ahead of the Harare march, which was declared illegal by the government.
"Laws that deny citizens space for peaceful protest are unjust and
therefore ungodly," the conference said, noting that "an increasing
number of Zimbabweans are beginning to wonder whether citizens should
have an obligation to respect and obey such repressive and oppressive
Chaumba said the rule of law has collapsed in Zimbabwe.
"Courts now rule in favor of the government and, without recourse
to the law, there is nowhere to go," he said.
Also, the central government interferes with local governments to
the extent that it is "impossible for mayors to do their jobs" without
being ruling party loyalists, he said.
The country's "only hope" is an international initiative "to highlight
the problems here," he said.
Noting that Zimbabwe is a signatory to many international human
rights commitments, Chaumba said, "African countries need to put
pressure on it to comply."
Regional groups such as the African Union and the Southern African
Development Community "are not sending strong signals" that Zimbabwe
needs drastic change, he said.
"Our liberation history is haunting us," Chaumba said, noting that
"many (current) South African leaders were housed in Zimbabwe" during
apartheid "and it would be seen as discourteous to criticize their
While "they must acknowledge that brotherhood, they still need to
call a spade a spade where human rights are being violated," he
Chaumba said Zimbabweans are "still suffering the effects" of Mugabe's
Operation Drive Out Trash, in which government agents destroyed
shantytowns in an attempt to force the residents to return to rural
areas. Thousands of poor Zimbabweans were left homeless by the operation,
which began in May.
In early November, "people who were still living in the open were
rounded up and put in a holding camp" on the outskirts of Harare,
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