Zimbabwe partially lifts NGO ban following international criticism
Robert Mugabe/ Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez
Robert Mugabe/ Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez
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.- The government of Zimbabwe has partially lifted a policy banning non-government organizations (NGOs) from entering the country, relenting to humanitarian aid organizations and Catholic leaders who had criticized the program. Mugabe's government now says it will allow workers in who distribute food and help for AIDS patients.

A Catholic archbishop leading a Southern Africa bishops’ conference and a cardinal heading a major global Catholic charity have spoken out for the NGOs, which aim to distribute food supplies and offer assistance to AIDS victims in the country.

The high-ranking clergymen have also addressed Zimbabwe pre-election conflict by reminding Zimbabweans that “electoral processes and outcomes are not an excuse for breaching God's commandments.”

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, who is president of Caritatis Internationalis, and Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg, who is president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, issued a joint appeal on June 13 to the international community, especially South Africa. As reported on the Caritatis Internationalis web site, they criticized the regime of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe for endangering the lives of more than 4 million people.

The clergymen asked international leaders to press the Zimbabwean government to prevent the violent repression of Zimbabweans and to reverse the “inhumane suspension” of international aid.

“That food is being denied to people facing starvation is a grave evil,” Cardinal Rodriguez said. “The government of Zimbabwe must also ensure that aid workers are able to work in a secure environment without threats of violence. The scale of the current political violence and threats is unacceptable.

 "Restrictions on humanitarian workers and increasing violence severely hamper the Church in carrying out its mission to provide care and assistance to those most in need.

Archbishop Tlhagale said that “quiet diplomacy” was no longer effective.

“Quiet Diplomacy is not feeding people, but allowing the current structures to threaten the very survival of the extremely vulnerable,” he said.

“This situation is fast losing the Zimbabwe government and those who support it any sympathy that there might have been for their concerns. This post-colonial throwback rhetoric by Zimbabwean authorities must cease – let them prove that they have the interests of ordinary Zimbabwean at heart by giving them food,” he said.

Both clergymen called for an “immediate cessation of violence and all provocative statements and actions” and asked for independent monitors for the election. They reminded listeners that “electoral processes and outcomes are not an excuse for breaching God's commandments.”

According to Fides news agency, South African President Thabo Mbeki has visited Bulawayo, in western Zimbabwe, to meet with President Mugabe, who is conducting his electoral campaign. President Mbeki, who is a mediator in the Zimbabwe election crisis, urged Mugabe to end the run-off election scheduled for June 27. Mbeki has been criticized for his highly permissive attitude towards Mugabe’s regime.

The Zimbabwe opposition is facing further harassment in its election campaign. MDC Party leader Morgan Tsvangirai has reportedly been arrested several times while campaigning. At present he is effectively being stopped from leaving the country.

On Thursday, MDC deputy leader Tendai Biti was charged with subverting the government and rigging the election, offenses that could result in the death penalty if he is convicted.

Jacob Zuma, the president of the South African party Africa National Congress, has said he could not guarantee that the run-off election would be free and accurate, Agenzia Fides reports.

Bishop Crispian Hollis of Portsmouth, England has joined other Christian leaders in calling for the Southern African Development Community to redouble its efforts to ensure fair elections in Zimbabwe.

The presidential run-off election between President Mugabe and Tsvangirai is scheduled for June 27.

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