Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, OFM, speaking for the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, has called for relief for the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe and has asked that Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe be isolated completely and deprived of support.
Comparing Mugabe to an obstinate Pharaoh, the cardinal archbishop of Durban on Thursday asked all African leaders to come to the aid of Zimbabwe. The country has suffered violence, food shortages and disease after civil conflict followed Mugabe's refusal to step down after the apparent electoral victory of his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai.
"We, the Catholic bishops of South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland, add our voice to the cries of those who insist that no effort must be spared in ensuring that a political solution to the current impasse is found," Cardinal Napier's statement began. Saying that South Africa has a "crucial role" to play in advancing justice and peace in Zimbabwe, the cardinal said that the bishops are "deeply saddened" that eight years of mediation has "borne no fruit." "These efforts were made in the hope that Robert Mugabe could be persuaded to negotiate with the opposition in the interests of the Common Good of the whole Zimbabwean nation," Cardinal Napier explained. "However, since he lost the election in March this year, he has continued to cling to power, waging war against anyone suspected of not supporting him, and refusing to share any real power with those who beat him in the election."
"It is clear that Mugabe is not prepared to relinquish control voluntarily, and that he is willing to watch thousands of innocent people die of starvation and cholera as long as he is able to retain power."
"Like Pharaoh he is obstinate and refuses to listen to the people," the cardinal said, referencing the Book of Exodus. He reported that the bishops were "extremely disappointed" in the failure of the South African Development Community leadership, including the South African president, to relieve the situation. Cardinal Napier called attempts to blame all sides in Zimbabwe's conflict "a travesty of justice and truth."
He said that Zimbabwe's opposition party has made "major concessions" not reciprocated by Mugabe and his ruling ZANU party, which "must bear total responsibility for the current impasse."
"It is now time to isolate Mugabe completely and to remove all forms of moral, material or tacit support for him and his party," he said. Referring to descriptions of Mugabe as a "liberator" or an "Elder African Statesman," he added: "No true liberator or statesman clings ruthlessly to power, as Mugabe has done, while his people live and die in misery and destitution. No solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe is possible as long as he is there."
Rebuking African leaders who believe they are defending Mugabe against "the supposed machinations of former colonial and present imperial powers," Cardinal Napier called on them to re-direct their solidarity to the needs of the suffering people of Zimbabwe. "The South African Government has the capacity to force Mugabe to go. All that is lacking is the political will," the cardinal argued. "We therefore call on President Motlanthe to stop immediately all collusion with Mugabe and to cut off any life-blood that South Africa is offering him," he said, calling for electricity and fuel supplies to be severed and for the assets of Zimbabwean leaders to be frozen.
Cardinal Napier then concluded the statement of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, saying: "We express our deepest solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe at this desperate time. We recommit ourselves and our people to praying that they will be able to unite and to have the courage and the strength to persevere in the struggle to remove the evil brought on them by Mugabe's dictatorship and the armed forces he uses to enforce it."