Zimbabwe Situation: briefing by Church Leaders

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International Relations

20 February 2003
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

20 February 2003

Chairperson: Dr P Jordan

Relevant committee meeting:
Zimbabwean Situation: briefing by Consul General Wednesday 29 January 2003

Two church leaders, Archbishop Pius Ncube, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo and Bishop Trevor Manhanga, leader of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, addressed the committee on the situation in their country. They explained the dire need of people in the country. They explained that even churches found it difficult to operate as draconian laws prevented large meetings. They appealed to members to encourage the government to put pressure on its Zimbabwean counterpart.

Archbishop Ncube began by stating that at one time Zimbabwe had been second to South Africa economically. However at the moment things are very bad and that people are starving to death. He claimed that in 2002 approximately 2000 people had died due to starvation. This number would have been greater had it not been for the food programs. He reiterated that the situation had never been this bad before. The Zimbabwean government had blamed the food crisis on the drought, but he felt that was not so. The problem began three years ago when the land reform program was embarked upon. This program was not thought out properly. He claimed that President Mugabe had embarked on this program to punish the white farmers for not voting for him in the referendum.

He went on to say that the presidential elections were rigged and that there was violence and cheating. The inflation rate in 2002 was 200% and there was a brain drain as professionals left for the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. He pointed out that victimisation of the opposition, violence and torture was continuing. Civil society was continually hounded by the government. There was no independent radio and television as this had all been taken over by the government. No meeting could take place without police permission. Non-governmental organisations had to register because the government wanted to curb the foreign currency that they were receiving. The archbishop shared that the people were appealing to the church to help. In closing, he pointed out again that the situation was bad and that there was a lack of food on the shelves in shops.

Bishop Manhanga began by saying that the situation was heading for an explosion. He was concerned by the remarks made by the Nigerian president, Obasango, that the situation was returning to normal. He claimed that the situation was not normal and pointed out that he had been arrested the previous week as a result of the new security laws. He claimed that these laws were even worse than those under Ian Smith. He explained that for any meeting with more than five people, permission had to be granted. He had been arrested for wanting to address a church meeting. He pointed out that the way forward was for the church to try to resurrect the inter-party negotiations. He stressed that the political impasse had to be solved and that the 2002 election was the major problem. All church bodies had declared that the elections was not fair. He felt that the South African government should try to bring the parties back to the negotiating table.

Mr. M Ramgobin (ANC) referred to the very bleak picture that had been painted by the two speakers. He warned them to choose their allies very carefully. He claimed that it sounded as if he had been listening to Tony Leon of the Democratic Alliance. He pointed out that certain media would like to hear this and warned them to be careful. He said that even if the situation was as bad as they presented it, it was surprising that they had been allowed out to address them that day. He pointed out that neither speaker had addressed the land question and the Lancaster House agreement. He asked what the church's stance was on restitution. He wanted to know whether there would ever be peace if people remained naked and oppressed while they did not have land. He also said that the church was not the saviour as it portrayed itself.

Mr. A Ainslie (ANC) wanted to know what efforts were being made by the church in Zimbabwe to promote dialogue between the parties and whether they felt they were able to do this.

Mr. A Mokoena (ANC) said that the church has to be pro-active and that it seems the church has been late in responding. He felt that the church should have been providing answers much earlier and that it must make every effort to regain the moral high ground.

Bishop Manhanga responded that it was wrong to lump the church with the DA. He pointed out that they had not met the DA and had no plans to meet them. He stressed that there were no links between themselves and the DA. He also claimed that the church does not represent the MDC and only wants to level the playing fields. He pointed out that many of the Zimbabwean people did not know who Tony Blair was, they only wanted their freedom. He reminded the Committee that the church had been active in the struggle and that many ministers had been arrested and churches attacked by the previous government. The church had been at the forefront and had been an agent of reconciliation in Zimbabwe. On the question of land, he pointed out that the chairman of the Zimbabwean Council of Churches had addressed the issue a time back and published a booklet about it. The church realises that land distribution is crucial but that it had to go to the right people. He pointed out that prime land had been given to people in government and that there were still many landless people.

Archbishop Ncube said that politicians were very astute and that people should rather get a thorough knowledge of the situation. He claimed that politicians were playing games and that if one went to the rural areas, the truth would be found. He referred to the shopping spree which President Mugabe and Minster Moyo had been on in Singapore and Johannesburg respectively to show how corrupt the politicians were.

He said that it would be very easy for them to team up with President Mugabe, but he felt that he had to side with the poor as Jesus Christ had done. All churches agree that land must be distributed, but that it had not been done properly. It was his opinion that the government did not follow through on the Lancaster House agreement. He felt that government ministers were governed by greed as they had taken over the land. He added that the church was trying to get the ear of the president.

Mr. B Geldenhuys (NNP) said that it was his personal view that President Mugabe should go peacefully. He referred to the role that the church had played in Eastern Europe in facilitating the "Velvet Revolution" and wanted to know whether the Zimbabwean church was active in the same way.

Mr. Z Madasa (ACDP) referred to the economy in South Africa which at the present time favoured a few, namely the whites. He said the government is responding to this through transformation which has to take place in an orderly manner and within a legal framework. He wanted to know whether this is the way the church wanted things to proceed in Zimbabwe. He pointed out that human rights had to be championed irrespective of one's political allegiance.

Ms. M Magazi (ANC) wanted to know whether indigenous churches were also being mobilised as she felt they should be involved together with NGOs.

Bishop Manhanga responded to an earlier question and pointed out that the church was involved with the MDC and ZANU-PF in an informal way to get them to come to the table. He pointed out they were not asking South Africa to do what they could do for themselves. He agreed that civil society had a role to play. In reply to Ms Magazi, he said that he was part of an indigenous church and that people should not judge whether they are indigenous or not merely because of their way of worship. His church was indigenous and not foreign and they would welcome other groups joining them. He added though that because of the new laws it was very difficult for them to meet.

Archbishop Ncube added that the mainline churches did tend to have a more educated population. He pointed out that many of the local churches had been started by people who came from South Africa once they had returned from working on the mines. President Mugabe had taken over some of these indigenous churches by offering them gifts. He added that some of these indigenous churches do not feel at home with the mainline churches and therefore it would be difficult to join forces with them. The church tries to be neutral, but because he had been very critical of the President, he would probably not be the right person to play a mediating role. The church wanted a non-violent revolution with no bloodshed. Many people were holding prayer meetings where they were praying the whole night about the situation. He appealed once again to South Africa to keep the pressure on the Zimbabwean government.

Mr. N Mudau (ANC) referred to the Archbishop's comment that the government had delayed having the Lancaster House agreement implemented. He felt that this was not fair and wanted to know what contribution was made by the church to see that it was implemented. He also referred to the document drawn up by the chairman of the Zimbabwean Council of Churches and wanted to know if this had been distributed and used as a way forward. He added that it seemed as if the Zimbabwean government had done nothing good.

Mr. J Sithole (ANC) referred to an earlier briefing by the Zimbabwean Consul-General, where it was mentioned that food was being distributed by the UN and not by government and was therefore done impartially. He questioned the Archbishop's view that there was partiality. He also felt that it was the church's duty to change the perceptions people have of the country. He felt that to say white farmers were being punished for not voting for President Mugabe was not the total answer. He felt that civil society could do more. He also wanted to know what the relationship was like between the church and the government, as opposed to the ZANU-PF. He felt the church could not be neutral, that it needed to take a stand as it had done in South Africa against the previous regime.

Ms. Dudley (ACDP) commended the two speakers for their courage in speaking out and felt that their role was to defend justice and not to protect the church's image. She wanted to know what they felt the committee or South Africa could do.

Bishop Manhanga said that the church had been supportive of the government in the past. He added that the government had done a wonderful job after independence. Now that the church was pointing out things that were wrong, they were being branded as enemies of the state. He felt that after twenty years the struggle was at another level. He reiterated that the issue of land is important, but that the process must be transparent. On the issue of perceptions, he said that it was the church's role to raise issues of human rights which are God given. If by doing this, the wrong perception was created, he would accept it. He said that Zimbabwe did not want to be left behind and that for NEPAD to succeed, things would have to start changing in Zimbabwe. He felt they needed a resurrection in Zimbabwe. He stressed that the issue was not about President Mugabe but about the situation that the people were in. He felt that the committee should try to hear all points of view. He noted that he had had no problems with the governor of his province, who was a ZANU-PF member, when it came to the distribution of food.

Archbishop Ncube referred to the Lancaster House agreement and pointed out that the land was supposed to be distributed after ten years. He said that President Mugabe had arranged a conference to discuss this and had received donations from the First World countries for the land reform program. He had however delayed because he needed the foreign currency from these countries. The present strategy was embarked upon however when he lost the referendum and realised that his power base was being eroded. He added that he personally knew of areas where food was only being given to ZANU-PF supporters. He agreed that civil society could do more but pointed out that they were being intimidated. He also referred to the Youth Militia and said that people could not join the civil service unless they had been through the militia which meant that there was no freedom. He pointed out once again that the church tries to be neutral in the situation. He appealed to the committee and South Africa to keep putting pressure on the government and to listen to both sides.

The Chairperson said that the committee had wanted a balanced view and had therefore welcomed them since they had invited the Consul-General to speak to the Committee previously. He was glad that the church felt that negotiations was the way forward. There were concerns that the Zimbabwean society was becoming polarised and that the freedoms were falling through the cracks. He ended by saying that the Committee would continue to listen to other organs of civil society in the future.


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