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hears the cry of the oppressed: Pastoral Letter by the Zimbabwe
Catholic Bishops' Conference on the current crisis of our
Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’
April 05, 2007
As your Shepherds we
have reflected on our national situation and, in the light of the
Word of God and Christian Social Teaching, have discerned what we
now share with you, in the hope of offering guidance, light and
hope in these difficult times.
The people of Zimbabwe are suffering. More and more people are getting
angry, even from among those who had seemed to be doing reasonably
well under the circumstances. The reasons for the anger are many,
among them, bad governance and corruption. A tiny minority of the
people have become very rich overnight, while the majority are languishing
in poverty, creating a huge gap between the rich and the poor. Our
Country is in deep crisis. A crisis is an unstable situation of
extreme danger and difficulty. Yet, it can also be turned into a
moment of grace and of a new beginning, if those responsible for
causing the crisis repent, heed the cry of the people and foster
a change of heart and mind especially during the imminent Easter
Season, so our Nation can rise to new life with the Risen Lord.
In Zimbabwe today, there
are Christians on all sides of the conflict; and there are many
Christians sitting on the fence. Active members of our Parish and
Pastoral Councils are prominent officials at all levels of the ruling
party. Equally distinguished and committed office-bearers of the
opposition parties actively support church activities in every parish
and diocese. They all profess their loyalty to the same Church.
They are all baptised, sit and pray and sing together in the same
church, take part in the same celebration of the Eucharist and partake
of the same Body and Blood of Christ. While the next day, outside
the church, a few steps away, Christian State Agents, policemen
and soldiers assault and beat peaceful, unarmed demonstrators and
torture detainees. This is the unacceptable reality on the ground,
which shows much disrespect for human life and falls far below the
dignity of both the perpetrator and the victim.
In our prayer
and reflection during this Lent, we have tried to understand the
reasons why this is so. We have concluded that the crisis of our
Country is, in essence, a crisis of governance and a crisis of leadership
apart from being a spiritual and moral crisis.
The national health system has all but disintegrated as a result
of prolonged industrial action by medical professionals, lack of
drugs, essential equipment in disrepair and several other factors.
In the educational sector,
high tuition fees and levies, the lack of teaching and learning
resources, and the absence of teachers have brought activities in
many public schools and institutions of higher education to a standstill.
The number of students forced to terminate their education is increasing
every month. At the same time, Government interference with the
provision of education by private schools has created unnecessary
tension and conflict.
Public services in Zimbabwe's
towns and cities have crumbled. Roads, street lighting, water and
sewer reticulation are in a state of severe disrepair to the point
of constituting an acute threat to public health and safety, while
the collection of garbage has come to a complete standstill in many
places. Unabated political interference with the work of democratically
elected Councils is one of the chief causes of this breakdown.
The erosion of the public
transport system has negatively affected every aspect of our Country's
economy and social life. Horrific accidents claim the lives of dozens
of citizens each month.
Almost two years after
the Operation Murambatsvina, thousands of victims are still without
a home. That inexcusable injustice has not been forgotten.
Following a radical land
reform programme seven years ago, many people are today going to
bed hungry and wake up to a day without work. Hundreds of companies
were forced to close. Over 80 per cent of the people of Zimbabwe
are without employment. Scores risk their lives week after week
in search of work in neighbouring countries.
Inflation has soared
to over 1,600 per cent, and continues to rise, daily. It is the
highest in the world and has made the life of ordinary Zimbabweans
unbearable, regardless of their political preferences. We are all
concerned for the turnaround of our economy but this will remain
a dream unless corruption is dealt with severely irrespective of
a person's political or social status or connections.
The list of justified
grievances is long and could go on for many pages.
The suffering people
of Zimbabwe are groaning in agony: "Watchman, how much longer
the night"? (Is 21:11)
of Moral Leadership
The crisis of our Country is, secondly, a crisis of leadership.
The burden of that crisis is borne by all Zimbabweans, but especially
the young who grow up in search of role models. The youth are influenced
and formed as much by what they see their elders doing as by what
they hear and learn at school or from their peers.
If our young people see
their leaders habitually engaging in acts and words which are hateful,
disrespectful, racist, corrupt, lawless, unjust, greedy, dishonest
and violent in order to cling to the privileges of power and wealth,
it is highly likely that many of them will behave in exactly the
same manner. The consequences of such overtly corrupt leadership
as we are witnessing in Zimbabwe today will be with us for many
years, perhaps decades, to come. Evil habits and attitudes take
much longer to rehabilitate than
to acquire. Being elected to a position of leadership should not
be misconstrued as a licence to do as one pleases at the expense
of the will and trust of the electorate.
and Moral Crisis
Our crisis is not only political and economic but first and foremost
a spiritual and moral crisis. As the young independent nation struggles
to find its common national spirit, the people of Zimbabwe are reacting
against the "structures of sin" in our society. Pope
John Paul II says that the "structures of sin" are "rooted
in personal sin, and thus always linked to the concrete acts of
individuals who introduce these structures, consolidate them and
make them difficult to remove. And thus they grow stronger, spread,
and become the source of other sins, and so influence people's
behaviour." The Holy Father stresses that in order to understand
the reality that confronts us, we must "give a name to the
root of the evils which afflict us." That is what we have
done in this Pastoral Letter.
Roots of the Crisis
The present crisis in our Country has its roots deep in colonial
society. Despite the rhetoric of a glorious socialist revolution
brought about by the armed struggle, the colonial structures and
institutions of pre-independent Zimbabwe continue to persist in
our society. None of the unjust and oppressive security laws of
the Rhodesian State have been repealed; in fact, they have been
reinforced by even more repressive legislation, the Public Order
and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of
Privacy Act, in particular. It almost appears as though someone
sat down with the Declaration of Human Rights and deliberately scrubbed
out each in turn.
Why was this done? Because
soon after Independence, the power and wealth of the tiny white
Rhodesian elite was appropriated by an equally exclusive black elite,
some of whom have governed the country for the past 27 years through
political patronage. Black Zimbabweans today fight for the same
basic rights they fought for during the liberation struggle. It
is the same conflict between those who possess power and wealth
in abundance, and those who do not; between those who are determined
to maintain their privileges of power and wealth at any cost, even
at the cost of bloodshed, and those who demand their democratic
rights and a share in the fruits of independence; between those
who continue to benefit from the present system of inequality and
injustice, because it favours them and enables them to maintain
an exceptionally high standard of living, and those who go to bed
hungry at night and wake up in the morning to another day without
work and without income; between those who only know the language
of violence and intimidation, and those who feel they have nothing
more to lose because their Constitutional rights have been abrogated
and their votes rigged. Many people in Zimbabwe are angry, and their
anger is now erupting into open revolt in one township after another.
The confrontation in
our Country has now reached a flashpoint. As the suffering population
becomes more insistent, generating more and more pressure through
boycotts, strikes, demonstrations and uprisings, the State responds
with ever harsher oppression through arrests, detentions, banning
orders, beatings and torture. In our judgement, the situation is
extremely volatile. In order to avoid further bloodshed and avert
a mass uprising the nation needs a new people driven Constitution
that will guide a democratic leadership chosen in free and fair
elections that will offer a chance for economic recovery under genuinely
Message of Hope: God is always on the Side of the Oppressed
The Bible has much to say about situations of confrontation. The
conflict between the oppressor and the oppressed is a central theme
throughout the Old and New Testaments. Biblical scholars have discovered
that there are no less than twenty different root words in Hebrew
to describe oppression.
One example is the Creed
of the chosen people, which we read on the First Sunday of Lent:
"My Father was a homeless Aramaean. He went down to Egypt
to find refuge there, few in numbers; but there he became a nation,
great, mighty and strong. The Egyptians ill-treated us, they gave
us no peace and inflicted harsh slavery on us. But we called on
the Lord, the God of our fathers. The Lord heard our voice and saw
our misery, our toil and our oppression; and the Lord brought us
out of Egypt with mighty hand and outstretched arm, with great terror,
and with signs and wonders. . . . "(Deut 26:5b-8).
The Bible describes oppression
in concrete and vivid terms: Oppression is the experience of being
crushed, degraded, humiliated, exploited, impoverished, defrauded,
deceived and enslaved. And the oppressors are described as cruel,
ruthless, arrogant, greedy, violent and tyrannical; they are called
'the enemy'. Such words could only have been used by
people who in their own lives and history had an immediate and personal
experience of being oppressed. To them Yahweh revealed himself as
the God of compassion who hears the cry of the oppressed and who
liberates them from their oppressors. The God of the Bible is always
on the side of the oppressed. He does not reconcile Moses and Pharaoh,
or the Hebrew slaves with their Egyptian oppressors. Oppression
is sin and cannot be compromised with. It must be overcome. God
takes sides with the oppressed. As we read in Psalm 103:6: "God,
who does what is right, is always on the side of the oppressed".
When confronted with
the politically powerful, Jesus speaks the language of the boldest
among Israel's prophets. He calls Herod 'that fox'
(Lk13:32) and courageously exposes the greed for money, power and
adulation of the political elite. And he warns his disciples never
to do likewise: "Among the gentiles it is the kings who lord
it over them, and those who have authority over them are given the
title Benefactor. With you this must not happen. No, the greatest
among you must behave as if he were the youngest, the leader as
if he were the one who serves" (Lk 22:25-27). And he warns
Pilate in no uncertain terms that he will be held to account by
God for his use of power over life and death (John 19:11).
Throughout the history
of the Church, persecuted Christians have remembered, prayed and
sung the prophetic words of Mary: "[The Lord] has used the
power of his arm, he has routed the arrogant of heart. He has pulled
down princes from their thrones and raised high the lowly. He has
filled the starving with good things, sent the rich away empty"
Generations of Zimbabweans,
too, throughout their own long history of oppression and their struggle
for liberation, have remembered, prayed and sung these texts from
the Old and New Testaments and found strength, courage and perseverance
in their faith that Jesus is on their side. That is the message
of hope we want to convey in this Pastoral Letter: God is on your
side. He always hears the cry of the poor and oppressed and saves
We conclude our Pastoral Letter by affirming with a clear and unambiguous
Yes our support of morally legitimate political authority. At the
same time we say an equally clear and unambiguous No to power through
violence, oppression and intimidation. We call on those who are
responsible for the current crisis in our Country to repent and
listen to the cry of their citizens. To the people of Zimbabwe we
appeal for peace and restraint when expressing their justified grievances
and demonstrating for their human rights.
Words call for concrete
action, for symbols and gestures which keep our hope alive. We therefore
invite all the faithful to a Day of Prayer and Fasting for Zimbabwe,
on Saturday, 14 April 2007. This will be followed by a Prayer Service
for Zimbabwe, on Friday, every week, in all parishes of our Country.
As for the details, each Diocese will make known its own arrangements.
May the Peace and Hope
of the Risen Lord be with you always. Happy Easter.
Prayer for our country
God Our Father,
You have given all peoples one common origin,
And your will is to gather them as one family in yourself.
Give compassion to our leaders, integrity to our citizens, and repentance
to us all.
Fill the hearts of all women and men with your love
And the desire to ensure justice for all their brothers and sisters.
By sharing the good things you give us
May we ensure justice and equality for every human being,
An end to all division, and a human society built on love,
Lasting prosperity and peace for all.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Our Father . . . Hail Mary . . . Glory be to the Father . . .
Ndlovu, Archbishop of Harare (ZCBC President)
+Pius Alec M. Ncube, Archbishop of Bulawayo
+Alexio Churu Muchabaiwa, Bishop of Mutare (ZCBC Secretary/Treasurer)
+Michael D. Bhasera, Bishop of Masvingo
+Angel Floro, Bishop of Gokwe (ZCBC Vice President)
+Martin Munyanyi, Bishop of Gweru
+Dieter B. Scholz SJ, Bishop of Chinhoyi
+Albert Serrano, Bishop of Hwange
+Patrick M. Mutume, Auxiliary Bishop of Mutare
the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference (ZCBC) fact
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