The bishops of Zimbabwe have released a proposal for restoration and peace in the country following the national elections which were held in July and which have polarized the nation's people.
“We write this Pastoral Letter three months after the national elections were conducted, when the dust from those elections has settled down somewhat,” the bishops wrote in their Dec. 3 letter, released by charity Aid to the Church in Need.
“From where we stand as shepherds in God's vineyard, we are compelled to observe that the elections have left Zimbabweans more polarized than they were before and during the years of the Inclusive Government,” which ran from 2009 to 2013.
The Zimbabwean elections, held July 31, were won by president Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party; Mugabe has held power in the country since it gained independence in 1980. He was challenged primarily by Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change.
Elections in 2008 were contested and had been marred by violence after a period of hyperinflation. Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change agreed to a power-sharing agreement, with Tsvangirai serving as prime minister from 2009-2013.
Observer groups were divided on the freedom and fairness of this year's elections, but the violence experienced in 2008 was notably absent in 2013, with the bishops calling it “a generally and relatively peaceful poll during which reported incidents of intimidation, intolerance and violence were minimal.”
However, they said that “the political fault lines and their impact on all aspects of the lives of Zimbabweans are set not only to deepen, but also to stand in the way of progress and ultimately in the way of peace.”
The bishops noted “with apprehension that three months after the dust from the elections began to settle down, there are no visible prospects for improvement in the spheres of life in Zimbabwe that cry for restoration to give people hope for a better life.”
They pointed to four issues which need to be addressed for the common good of Zimbabwe. First, re-engagement with the international community, and then three areas of economic restoration: the national economy, especially manufacturing; the public sector, including health and education; and Zimbabwe's “historical status” as southern Africa's “bread basket” with “food security for her people.”
“The need to create viable platforms to address effectively the areas outlined above for the benefit of our people and country cannot be overemphasized.”
Since 2000, Zanu-PF has pursued “indigenization” of the economy, seizing land and other assets from white owners to give it to native Zimbabweans, and blocking immigrants from such places as Nigeria and China from certain economic sectors.
The country's bishops lamented that industrial sites “carry the appearance of ghost towns because the once-vibrant manufacturing sector is now largely moribund.”
“The dignity of our people has been severely eroded as they have become reduced to sellers of cheap goods and products at street corners in our cities in order to survive.”
They noted a severe lack of public services which impede Zimbabwean's “hope for a better life,” and emphasized that “it need not be like this.”
Zimbabwe has “abundant natural resources,” they said, and “resilient, God-fearing and highly skilled people,” which “gives us encouragement and hope that Zimbabweans can transform this unsatisfactory situation and in its place create a better life.”
For this to happen, the bishops wrote, there must be “political will at all levels of our society and institutions to work towards the achievement of the common good, political will to transcend differences in order for all Zimbabweans to work together as one family.”
In the face of polarization, they called for Zimbabweans to “transcend their differences and work together for the common good of our country.”
They pointed to the power-sharing government which had made “some visible progress” toward a better lot, especially for the poor, which was possible because the people and parties were collaborating for the common good.
The bishops lamented that the power-sharing agreement was “a temporary marriage of convenience,” and said it demonstrated that a “winner-take-all political arrangement will not benefit Zimbabwe and her people,” and that neither of the parties can alone “achieve the restoration … so sorely need(ed).”
They cited Benedict XVI's message for 2013's World Day of Peace, saying his insight “is the message Zimbabwe needs most.
The Pope had called for a “new economic model” based on fraternity and self-gift rather than consumption and profit-maximization.
The bishops wrote, “We in Zimbabwe can have 'life to the fullest' if we heed the words of Pope Benedict XVI as inspired by the Apostle John and put in place 'a new economic model' across all sectors of our economy, an economic model that is inclusive, that draws from the abundant pool of expertise that we are blessed with among our people and that transcends political and any other boundaries.”
They urged that experts be allowed to address the four areas of national need in a non-partisan way, without respect to their political or religious affiliation, saying, “this is the Agenda for Zimbabwe’s restoration that we urge the Government, the Opposition and all of us as Zimbabweans to embrace.”
“We believe that if we all pray to the Lord for conversion and belief in our hearts and observe the principles of fraternity and gratuitousness enjoined upon us by Pope Benedict XVI, the new model can work and the Lord will, as he promised, heal our land,” they concluded.
“We pray that the season of Advent and Christmas, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ as one of us, may help us address all areas of our greatest need.”