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  • Strikes and Protests 2007- Save Zimbabwe Campaign

  • Transcript of 'Hot Seat' interview with church leaders
    Violet Gonda, SW Radio Africa
    April 17, 2007

    View Save Zimbabwe Campaign index of images and articles

    Violet Gonda: On the programme Hot Seat we take a look at the role of the Church in Zimbabwe in finding a solution to the crisis. The Catholic Bishops Conference issued the most critical statement yet by the Church in Zimbabwe, in a Pastoral letter for Easter. It spoke prophetically and warned of more bloodshed and unrest and blamed the chaos on the leadership of the Mugabe regime.

    To discuss this and the continuing debate on the church response to the crisis we have Bishop Trevor Manhanga (on the right), the head of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe and head of delegation of the Zimbabwe National Vision Document that was launched last year. We also have Pastor Ray Motsi (on the left), the spokesperson of the Christian Alliance, the conveners of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign and Pius Ncube (in the middle), the Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo . Ncube is one of the Bishops who signed the Pastoral letter.

    I began by asking Pastor Motsi for his response to the Pastoral letter.

    Pastor Ray Motsi: first of all, I haven't actually seen the whole document, I've just had snippets of it because I've been away, but nevertheless, I think people can refer to it as hard-hitting. I personally believe that the Church needs to say the truth as they see it; whether other people actually believe it or not; but they need to say sincerely what they believe is the right thing. And therefore, if the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe has come to a point where they think they needed to say something about the situation in Zimbabwe , I think it's a welcome development within our country.

    Violet : Bishop Manhanga, the Bishops, the Catholic Bishops concluded in their statement that the crisis in Zimbabwe is a crisis of governance and leadership and that is apart from being a spiritual and moral crisis. Do you agree with this?

    Bishop Trevor Manhanga: Well, firstly Violet, I just wanted to say in your introduction you introduced me as the President of the Evangelical Alliance. I am the past President. I am the Chairman of Heads of Denominations, so just to make that correction.

    Violet: OK

    Bishop Trevor Manhanga: And then we'll go on to your question. I think, as Pastor Motsi has said, the Bishops in the Catholic Church have looked at the situation and they have felt, from their analysis, that's how they see the situation. I think its common knowledge to everybody in the Zimbabwean scenario that, yes, things are not right. To ascertain exactly what the problem is and where it has gone wrong is what everybody is trying to do. So, I think its well within the Catholic Bishops' right to look at the situation and to analyze how they see it.

    Violet: And Archbishop Ncube, you wrote as the Catholic Bishops that many people in Zimbabwe are angry and that their anger is now erupting into open revolt in one township after another and that the country is in an extremely volatile situation. What has been the response from your parishioners so far?

    Archbishop Pius Ncube: The Catholic parishioners have been very positive in their response. They felt that it is good we had talked and some of them said it was high time that we talked, this should have been said, they said, much earlier. So, they are pleased with the Pastoral letter and they think that we should look for ways to solve the situation so that it's not mere talk and it just ends in a mere letter.

    Violet: And you know, this is, some have said, that it's very rare that Catholic Bishops have taken such a radical stance. Catholic Bishops have never come together in this way. Has this in any way got to do with the Pope?

    Archbishop Ncube: No, well, the Pope usually leaves; well, because the Pope is not really in touch with the local situation, though he's got a representative in most countries, including Zimbabwe . But we ourselves felt, well, we got new blood also in our Bishops Conference last year, three Bishops were appointed, new ones. And so, perhaps some of us were getting kind of used to the situation you know and part of the new blood they said 'well, let's meet and really talk about this matter, we can't just let things drift'. So perhaps that's part of the reason.

    Violet: And let me go back to Bishop Manhanga. The Church in Zimbabwe launched a document entitled 'The Zimbabwe We Want: Towards a National Vision'. What has happened with this initiative?

    Bishop Trevor Manhanga: This initiative is going on Violet, as we speak we have put in place a secretariat, within the next week or so they will begin the outreach work in the provinces. In each province we'll be looking at two districts, talking to ordinary people and gathering the thoughts and responses of ordinary people. Now yes, we would have liked to have moved faster but we were hampered by several things, resources, putting in place the correct personnel. So, we would have loved to have been a bit further along the road but that initiative is still on-going and I think it will yield a good result at the end of the day.

    Violet: And, you know, with the latest statement by the Catholic Church, do you feel that you've been out done by events in terms of your document?

    Bishop Trevor Manhanga: No, no, no, far from it. This document is not like instant coffee that we are looking at something for tomorrow. This document is trying to gather consensus on a vision for the nation. Some people have said to us now that elections are coming up next year that does not alter what the document is going to do. Whoever emerges from the elections of 2008 will still be presented with the document from Zimbabweans saying 'this is the nation that we want'. It's not about personalities, it's not about parties, it's about the kind of country, Zimbabweans will want to live in and be governed by. So, no, it's not about being outdone by anybody or any process. We feel that the process we are going through is very legitimate and it will bring forth its fruit in season.

    Violet: What about your thoughts on this Pastor Motsi as a member of what is seen as the much more radical Church coalition; the Christian Alliance. Do you think the Catholic Church has gone outside of the National Vision document?

    Pastor Ray Motsi: Not at all. In fact the nature of the Church is that we all come from different, what I would call constituencies and schools of thought and therefore as entities we have the liberty and the room to be able to respond to the Zimbabwean situation from personal perspectives and yet at the same time we are able to come together at a point where we need to rally together as a nation. And therefore what is actually happening, for an example, as an example the three issues that you have raised, the National Vision document, the Save Zimbabwe Campaign and the Catholic Bishops' Pastoral letter, are all ideas and attempts by Churches who know that there is a crisis in Zimbabwe , and therefore these are attempts. I personally believe that when you put all that together then you can actually be able to understand that there is a Church that is actually active and working towards a goal and doing something about the situation in Zimbabwe.

    Violet: And, Archbishop Ncube, you said at the time, some time last year that the National Vision document that was signed by the Church leaders was different from the final draft. Can you clarify on this?

    Archbishop Pius Ncube: Yes, well, I mean the substance of it I think remains very much alike, but a few passages were removed before the launch of the document, especially those passages that were taken as rather radical. Then afterwards, our feeling was 'well, OK, if at least we have a document which also the Government respects, it remains, even in those passages that remained during the launch of that document, are still very critical of the Government. And I remember talking to one of the Ambassadors from Western countries, from France, he was actually saying 'well, it's amazing that the Government accepted the document to be launched because there is still so much that is very, very critical of Government even in that doctored statement'. So, in view of that, we felt that at least the Government will allow us to discuss it and not hinder us and not interfere, since it is a discussion document. Rather than having a document towards which the Government is negative and we thought that at least there are some positive aspects in us having a document accepted by both the Churches; the mainline Churches; and the Government.

    Violet: Bishop Manhanga, how would you respond to this, that there are parts that were doctored and that there are some that would say that the National Vision document is a soft document and therefore lacked moral authority because it sought to appease the regime? How would you respond to this?

    Bishop Trevor Manhanga: I think if anybody, in all fairness, looked at the document, it cannot be accused of being a 'soft document'. I agree with my brother, Archbishop Ncube. Look at the document in all fairness and it makes some very critical statements. We must give due respect, the Government accepted that and I think in accepting that they said that 'we acknowledge some of the things that are here and let's discuss'. For people then to say that it lacks moral authority is without any basis whatsoever. I think we must also understand that what we are trying to do, at least some of us within the Church, is to open space for dialogue. And, if we are going to open space for dialogue, I think one of the ways we are going to do that is to make everybody understand certain things. Being antagonistic deliberately does not necessarily help. So our approach was, yes, as the Archbishop has said, there were some statements which were removed and maybe were a bit difficult in terms of trying to take a step forward. Now, once that was done, and yes, as the Archbishop has said, it never lost the heart behind it and it still maintained that in essence. So I don't think we would buy the statement to say that it was a wholesale giving-in to any party. It is a draft, it was never meant to be the final copy. We are now hoping that it will set the stage for people to talk about some of the things in the document and also some of the things that people feel that are not in the document that people feel should be there. At least it gives us something to discuss.

    Violet: And for the interests of the public, are you able to tell us which statements were taken out?

    Bishop Trevor Manhanga: Well you know, there were eight drafts and it might be a bit difficult right now because I'd have to actually see some of the clauses. Some were not removed because they were offensive but maybe for better reading and because they were being duplicated somewhere else, some paragraphs were shortened be. So, it would be difficult to actually state which the different things that were taken out were, and some other things added in. Because, like I said there were about eight drafts that it went through.

    Violet: And Archbishop Ncube, do you think that it's now time that the Church spoke with a more prophetic voice rather than just a priestly voice?

    Archbishop Pius Ncube: Yes, I think that as the crisis deepens more and more we begin to be aware of the urgency of acting, so that perhaps in this case dialogue alone might not be enough. But I think internally we must also begin to put pressure on Government so that they normalize the situation because up to now they have been extremely intransigent. So many efforts were made, by Church leaders, by human rights groups, by representatives of nations' - Ambassadors, by the United Nation's Secretary General, the outgoing man, Kofi Annan and by African leaders. So much effort was made and the Government remained intransigent. So I think now the pressure must come from within, from locally. So, mere dialogue alone will not work with these people. We know what characters they are. We also need to put pressure on them to shake them up a bit.

    Violet: And still on this issue about pressure Archbishop Pius Ncube, there are some who have asked, what more can the Church do. Now we know that Mugabe is a staunch Catholic and this is the first time that the Catholic Bishops have spoken out with one voice. If the regime continues to brutalize people, can the Church ex-communicate some of these people, including Mugabe himself, or withdraw communion from them?

    Archbishop Pius Ncube: Ah, personally I'm thinking that it would have a negative effect. The man would become even more stubborn to ex-communicate him. So, I'm extremely skeptical whether it would be effective. In any case, the first person to move it would have to be the Archbishop of Harare where Mugabe is resident, and I don't think he would be likely to make that move. You see, sometimes the Church is very careful not to use its spiritual status as a weapon; as a pressure weapon; especially where someone might react even more stubbornly, causing even more suffering on the local people and become perhaps even more violent than he already is.

    Violet: Pastor Motsi, what more can the Church do?

    Pastor Motsi : I think it's important for us to understand, especially your last question as to whether the Church needs to be more, what's the right word? Needs to be sharper in its rebuke and in the way in which we do things. I personally believe it is. I think there is a time where we need to be able to try all kinds of ways in which to persuade the Government and everybody who is wrong and perpetuating this kind of problems that we face in Zimbabwe . But, if that doesn't work, I personally believe that the words of the Prophet needs to be very clear, not only in the level of the voices but also in terms of what exactly needs to be done. And partly, prophetic voices need to be put into action and these actions ought to be brought to bear especially to everybody. And, I personally believe that the problem of Zimbabwe is not only those that are causing the suffering and the crisis, but it's also those that are keeping quiet in the suffering, and those that are aligning those people that are causing the problem. That to me is what the problem is and therefore the prophetic voice needs to be very clear in order to tell everybody that the situation in Zimbabwe does not need anybody from Britain or America or, South Africa , for that matter. It is us Zimbabweans who must come together. Each and everyone of us playing a role and the Church ought to be right at the beginning because judgment begins at the House of God. And, therefore, all these attempts that the Church is making. And, I personally believe that the time is coming where we are beginning to be very clear in terms of who we are and what we want because of the mandate and the mission of the Church's own scripture.

    Violet: Do you think there should be a more proactive move by the Church to actually bring the two political parties together, you know this is over and above what the Regional leaders are trying to do, Thabo Mbeki in particular.

    Pastor Ray Motsi: Well, I personally believe the idea is that people need to come together first. Our salvation does not come from political parties. That is all-important and I personally believe that the politicians continue to divide people, whether it's MDC versus MDC or MDC versus ZANU PF. And yet, the people ought to be together because it is us who are supposed to determine where this country is supposed to be going, not ZANU PF or MDC.

    Violet: And Bishop Manhanga, you know the Church is obliged to work with the Government but at what point does the situation become so bad that the Church is obliged to confront it?

    Bishop Trevor Manhanga: When you talk about confronting the Government, what sort of confrontation are you talking about? I think that's what you've got to realize. I think that everybody that looks at the Zimbabwe problem has got to understand one thing, at the end of the day we have to engage Government. They are the people who are in power, who are ruling the country, and, no matter what we do, whether as Churches or as Opposition, even the Thabo Mbeki initiative now, is premised on the fact that we are going to engage Government. So, if we are going to engage Government, as I see it, it's important that that engagement is done in a way that is none provocative because you want to reach a settlement. Now, if you want to reach a settlement with somebody, by provoking that person, I don't think that it's in the best interests of everybody that you begin by provocation. You try and begin by persuasion that's why I lean towards the side of saying let us try and persuade both the Government and the Opposition about things that we would want to see discussed. If we are unhappy with things that Government is doing, let's engage them, let's talk to them. I still feel that there is no alternative to talking. I would like people to tell me, what is the alternative? Violence? Armed Conflict? And I think that's an option that I would want to propose, I don't think that Zimbabweans should want to think that way because nobody wins in a situation where destruction takes place, violence takes place. There are no winners! I would lean on the side of persuasion; dialogue, dialogue. That is what we've got to do.

    Violet: So has, you know you said on the issue of engagement, you know you said it should be done - it should be non provocative. Now, has the Church engaged the Government on the issue of violence? Has the Church actually appealed to the Government to halt the abuses, the human rights abuses?

    Bishop Trevor Manhanga: Look, I don't think there's anyone Violet who would sanction what happened last month in Harare . Nobody sanctions that. It was wrong, it shouldn't have happened. Now, simply because we are not coming in the newspapers does not mean we are not engaging Government. We are engaging Government at the highest level to make a case that that should not happen again. And, in fact in our engagement we have been told that there have been people arrested. Our position is 'OK, let's see if the Courts will convict these people, because we have Courts and let's see what happens'. I would like to believe that our Courts are still competent. We still remember that Morgan Tsvangirai was acquitted of treason; there have been other cases where people have been acquitted. And, I would say to the Government if there are people who are alleged to have done anything, let them be arrested, they must not be brutalized, they must not be beaten, and let the Courts take their action which is what should happen. So that kind of work is ongoing Violet I can assure you. We are discussing with the powers that be, expressing ourselves and we trust that there will come a time when this thing will be seen openly.

    Violet: Archbishop Ncube, what are your thoughts on this? If in private the Government has been told to stop the abuses and it still continues is it not time to publicly condemn the Government?

    Archbishop Pius Ncube: You see I'm not sure whether I got your question properly, but if it's a matter of none provocation of the Government, we've had this Government for the last 27 years. We know who they are and we know the characters of all those people there. Bishop Trevor Manhanga himself was part of what was called the Troika. How long did they speak with these people? Three years from 2003 to 2005, from 2002 to 2005, they were trying to get ZANU PF to talk to the Opposition, all to no avail. If I heard properly, (Catholic Bishop Patrick) Mutumwa said that they met something like 45 times with ZANU PF, 41 times with MDC. All to no avail. We know that Archbishop Ndungane of Cape Town came to talk to President Mugabe, all to no avail. We know that a number of African President including Thabo Mbeki, Chissano, Mkapa of Tanzania, Muluzi of Malawi, the Nigerian President Obasanjo and I think as well as others, talked with Mugabe; all to no avail.

    So what is meant by non-provocation? Must we kow tow to these people? These people have shown total disregard for human rights and are clinging to power at all costs to the detriment of Zimbabweans. They continue at our cost, they continue printing money at any time so that they cause inflation. Inflation right now is 4000%. That 1700% is incorrect because they are taking it on the official price which is not practiced. The official price of bread is 825; the real price of bread in the shop is 5000, so they are not being correct, right? Kofi Annan talked to that man, Kofi Annan is a high up official. The Pope has sent messages appealing for peace. So if these people don't listen then the Zimbabweans have a right to non violent civil disobedience and they cannot go on kow-towing to these people while we are being sunk to the ground. It's the eighth year now! Eight years since this thing started with this grabbing of commercial land and unplanned fast track activities. This Government is not people centered. So if we are appealing to them and we talk to them, the Catholic Bishops have engaged President Mugabe on dialogue, I was part of the delegation. Anyhow, having tried everything with time, we just have to put pressure through civic disobedience. We cannot just go on being sweet to these people.

    Violet: Now this is the same question that I'm going to ask Pastor Ray Motsi, that Bishop Manhanga said that just because they don't report in the media the appeals that mediators are making to the Government, especially in connection with the violence that has been taking place in Zimbabwe . And also, Thabo Mbeki and the SADC leaders also said that they had appealed to the Mugabe regime for peace, and this was in private. Now my question is, if all these appeals that the mediators are making in private, if they are not yielding any results, is it not time for the mediators to actually publicly criticize the regime, Pastor Motsi?

    Pastor Ray Motsi: Well I personally believe that every Zimbabwean has got a right to respond to this Government and any other Government for that matter in the manner in which he or she feels they need to because any Government is supposed to be by the people, for the people and from the people. And therefore, every Zimbabwean has got a right to respond. And, I also want to in some way agree with what my colleagues on the Conference except to differ with Trevor in the sense that non violence, peaceful is very confrontational. It's based on the reality of what is actually going on. And therefore, if you cannot actually agree on the basis of the truth on the ground, there is no basis for engagement. And therefore, as long as we as Church says there is something wrong and the Government says there is nothing wrong, there's no basis for engagement and therefore there is a sense in which people will have to come and speak out. It's exactly like a father in the house is in a disagreement with his children. Now, there are other children who are very conciliatory in their approach, others will simply keep quiet and others will say 'well dad, if you are not really willing to respond to me, I'm going to do my own thing.' But that is the kind of crisis and the kind of response that you have in any country. You actually have people that will respond in a conciliatory way, there are others who would say 'hey listen, if you are not prepared to be my father and behave like a father, why should I be a child to you when in actual fact, you are not responding to my needs'.

    Violet: Bishop Manhanga?

    Pastor Ray Motsi: That is basically what is going on, you see

    Bishop Manhanga: All I'm saying is what is the nature of the resistance that the Church should be taking? I think that unfortunately what happens is that we are not coming up with the kind of definition and therefore when the Church wants to express itself their actions are usurped by other people and they become violent. I don't believe it's Church people, but because of the situation in Zimbabwe , even if the Church was to have a peaceful demonstration, it can easily be overtaken by other elements and then it becomes violent and then we get the police coming in and you see, there's that snowball effect. So I think it would be counterproductive. In this volatile situation we all need to exercise restraint. I think speaking to Government at various levels, I don't think you can come across anybody who will say that everything is right in Zimbabwe . They acknowledge that things are not right. The question is how do we get out of the problems that we have and correct the things that are wrong. That is the issue. I don't think that even on ZANU PF's side they are saying that everything is alright in the country.

    Violet: So how would you answer your own question, because, as Archbishop Pius Ncube pointed out, you were part of the Troika that has been trying to bring the two, the political parties together, or trying to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. But, you know, nothing has actually changed.

    Bishop Manhanga: Yes.

    Violet Gonda: So what is the nature of resistance that the Church can take now?

    Bishop Trevor Manhanga: Look, as I said, at the end of the day, I don't know of any conflict in the world, which is settled through fighting. At the end of the day, people put pressure but they still come to the table to negotiate. I don't think that all the discussions we had were a total waste of time. I don't think so. I think Zimbabwe could have been further down an abyss of conflict had we not tried to discuss and bring people to some understanding. Yes, the crisis may not have been resolved in a timeous manner as we would have wanted, but I think that we must also look on the positive side that there's worse things that could have happened that haven't happened. So, I think that despite the fact that we may not have come out of the problems that we are in, still, I will still hold on to the point that we must continue with our efforts to bridge the gap between the differing parties in Zimbabwe and we must talk to them. Whether we agree with them or not we must still talk and dialogue

    Violet Gonda: Next week the clerics argue on the nature of resistance or the activism they should embark on as a church, and we also hear their views on the state of the opposition in Zimbabwe . Archbishop Ncube reiterates that non-violent methods should be pursued and Manhanga says the door to talks is still open.

    Audio interview can be heard on SW Radio Africa 's Hot Seat programme (17 April 07). Comments and feedback can be emailed to

    NB: SW Radio Africa is back on MULTIPLE frequencies. Broadcasts are between 7:00 and 9:00 pm Zimbabwe time on shortwave; in the 25m band 11775kHz, 11810kHz, 12035kHz and in the 60m band 4880kHz. Also via the internet at

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