I AM someone who was very much involved in the liberation of our country of Zimbabwe from colonial rule.
In 1980 when we became independent, we were convinced that the process to become a democratic state had already started but we have since become known as a nation that denies basic democratic principles and human rights.
For more than 20 years, Zimbabwe’s main challenges have been economic and political, and especially the abuse of power by those in political leadership positions. There is a school of thought which argues that such challenges are technical and all that is needed are technical experts to fix Zimbabwe’s social and political systems. Indeed technical experts are needed and can help find solutions to salvage our nation from this chronic mismanagement of our national resources. Â
But a serious observer of the situation in Zimbabwe will soon find out that the social, economic and political challenges we have today are only the tip of the iceberg. We have a very deep spiritual and moral crisis in Zimbabwe which explains why our nation has become so corrupt and thrives on political patronage. This has resulted in a society marred by all forms of injustice without due regard for human dignity. We have:
*A society whose political system promotes lawlessness, violence, harassment and denial of food to the hungry;
*A nation with many displaced persons —— now around 500 000 in number;
*A political system that has total disregard for democratic principles as became obvious in the recent elections and
*In short: a system that has robbed its people of their human rights.
Christians understand human rights as a God-given gift. Every person has a right to live a meaningful and purposeful life including the right to food, shelter, healthcare, employment and education —— all these rights are being violated in Zimbabwe. Here lies the basis of our challenge —— it is both spiritual and moral.
Where the spiritual and moral fibre of society are undermined, basic human values have also ceased to exist. How else can it be explained that some of our people were mutilated during this year’s election campaign while others were left to die? People’s homesteads and food storages were destroyed resulting in an unbearable situation for the affected families.
Â There is indeed need to remind our people that there will be no peace in Zimbabwe until we all come to a full realisation that no political solution can be found unless it creates a system with a human face. That is why I repeat that we are faced with a spiritual and moral crisis in Zimbabwe. What then is the mission of the church in such a context?
The mission of the church is to announce the good news in any given situation —— good news that brings about freedom to the oppressed, food to the starving, medication to the sick, shelter to the homeless, protection to the vulnerable children and abused members of the community.
The human rights of the majority of people in Zimbabwe are violated thereby denying them a meaningful life. This majority lacks everything except the air they breathe while on the other hand the minority who benefit from political patronage have easy access to all the resources and material needs that make life easier.Â In actual fact Zimbabwe today is a lawless state where the perpetrators of violence and even murder are never arrested or brought to book. The judicial system itself is manipulated and leaves a lot to be desired. The police are feared by the public because of their ruthlessness and brutality as we in the Anglican Diocese of Harare continue to experience whereby we are driven out from our church buildings during services and are thus denied freedom of worship as our human right. When police officers abuse the law they are supposed to protect, then you know that there is no law anymore to protect the public. This all happens with full backing from the political leadership some of them Anglicans who have put their allegiance to their chosen political party above their allegiance to their church and their Christian faith.
The church has the responsibility to remind those in positions of power of their duty to respect and uphold human rights of all its citizens regardless of social status, gender, religion, ethnicity or political affiliation, and where these are denied the church becomes the voice of the voiceless. However the voice of the church in Zimbabwe has not been loud enough to condemn the evil system that our people experience daily. Here I salute Archbishop Pius Ncube who had the courage to speak out on behalf of the voiceless. But you all know what sacrifice he had to make. And to make it worse the church did not stand up in solidarity with him when character assassination was meted out against him.
Â The voice of the church appears to be submerged by other noises which include violence, intimidation, arrests and other forms of harassment. The voice of the church has not been loud enough to condemn such behaviour. Some clergy who have tried to speak out against the unjust political system have been seriously warned and often silenced.
The church runs 80% of the schools in the nation. But of late children have not been going to school or teachers have refused to teach them because of poor wages paid by the government,Â and again the church has remained silent where it had the right to speak out as a partner in education.
Similarly the church has traditionally had a strong commitment to health but has not condemned the total collapse of the health sector with major hospitals being closed down.Â Should we in the church turn a blind eye to such an appalling state of affairs? Indeed many people begin to ask: What is the role of the church? Is it to support the government regardless of bad governance and economic mismanagement? Certainly not! Â
The church has a prophetic ministry to offer, and this is not usually popular with those in power. The voice of the church should be heard proclaiming with a loud voice justice, peace, love and truth. These themes do not appear to be heard clearly in our nation.
During the March and June elections some of our people in rural areas suffered serious atrocities, such as torture and murder. Others were made homeless and became displaced persons. The main reason for this torture and harassment was that these people did not vote for the right party. Here is a classic example of the denial of human freedom of choice. In this instance the voice condemning such atrocities came from civic organisations whose members suffered arrests, and closure of their offices —— as happened to the Lawyers for Human Rights.
Unless both the church and individuals speak out with loud voices condemningÂ an inhuman political system that disregards the principles of democracy, dictatorship will be with us for a long time to come. Elsewhere on the continent of Africa dictatorships and evil ideologies have been dismantled by churches taking a clear position. I am thinking here of the churches of South Africa, Kenya and Malawi to mention but a few.
As we discuss issues related to human rights, let us focus on each person as a child of God whose dignity is God-given, a dignity not derived from any human quality, not from a particular race, age, sex or social status, let alone from the powers that be, but a human dignity that is God-given and belongs to God alone.
By Sebastian Bakare
*This an edited version of Anglican Bishop Sebastian Bakare’s address to a Human Rights Conference in Lulea, Sweden recently. He is currently head of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe.