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Let’s acknowledge men of cloth in politics

One finds it puzzling to hear some politicians say that politics is an area other sectors of society like the church should not be involved in.

the Bornwell Chakaodza column by Rev Dr Levee Kadenge

I find this disturbing. I am not in any way trying to push pastors into the fray. Perhaps history can enlighten us on what has happened in the development of African politics and put the record straight.

In South Africa the first president of the ANC in 1912 was Rev John Langalibalele Dube of the Congregational Church in South Africa.

The founder and first leader of the first political party, the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress (ANC), sometimes known as Bantu Congress in the 1930s, was the Rev T D Samkange of the Methodist Church. He was chosen president of the Bantu Congress in 1943.

These ministers were fighting against racism when blacks were not allowed to enter shops, but to make purchases through windows. This was a precursor to future struggles.

Rev Ndabaningi Sithole founded, and was the chief architect of Zanu in 1963 in conjunction with Herbert Chitepo, Robert Mugabe, Edgar Tekere in Enos Nkala’s Highfield house.  At a party congress in Gwelo, Sithole was elected president and appointed Mugabe as secretary general. 

The idea in all these leaders was not that they wanted to be presidents. Instead they were chosen by the people and God to facilitate a process at a time when perhaps there were gaps.  Their roles were to push through an agenda of the people. I am sure they did not even enjoy their roles because then it was tough and risky.

Some of the pastors who went into politics have been soiled in the process because they wanted to be honest to their call in politics. It is very easy to tarnish pastors’ images even if they are genuine. The world is very good at character assassination and this has been done with impunity.

The irony of the matter is that if one is not a pastor and soils himself or herself they can be protected even when their backs are bare.  But should we let things go on like that where capable people from among the clergy who want to help are scared away because people choose to bully them?

In the late 1970s the Rev Andrew Majoni Ndhlela of the Methodist Church went both to Geneva and Lancaster House Conference offering chaplaincy to all parties in both places. Rev Ndhlela, Bishop Lamont of the Catholic and Bishop Skelton of the Anglican Church pioneered the formation of the Rhodesia Council of Churches (RCC) — now Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) — in 1964, which clearly did not support the Ian Smith regime.

It was not easy for them to break away from a white-dominated missionary council (called Rhodesian Conference of Churches). These clergy fought hard to send a clear message and convince the World Council of Churches (WCC) that it was necessary for the church to support the liberation struggle.

A desk to combat racism was established at WCC in Geneva, and Dr Nathan Shamuyarira was appointed to head that desk for some time. These efforts were not small at the time.  At home the Rev Herbert Chikomo of the Presbyterian Church became the first general secretary of RCC.  Threats came from Smith who promised to close the council because it was supporting the war of liberation.

In 1967 the council went on to form Christian Care as a social welfare arm which became a lifeline for the detainees and their families.  It paid fees for the children of detainees and provided food for their families.  Those in prison were provided with fees to further their education.

What is disturbing now is that when pastors get involved in politics, they are attacked because some individuals think they have the monopoly of helping people enjoy the benefits of independence.  Yet we are in this together.

As church, it is our mandate to pray for our leaders.  But we do not stop there. The church has the duty to scrutinise those in any leadership positions because of the crucial roles played by these in terms of giving direction to society.

Bishop Ralph Dodge of the United Methodist Church played a crucial role in sending Africans abroad for further education at a time it was treasonous to help indigenous people.  Bishop Dodge passed on the baton to Bishop Abel Muzorewa who was also a beneficiary of such a scholarship.

Whatever people may say about the late Muzorewa, the truth is he played the midwifery role to the birth of independence in Zimbabwe.

As the only Prime Minister of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, he was embroiled in many unpleasant things like all midwives go through. Zimbabwe-Rhodesia became the cross-over channel which then ushered in the independence that we enjoy now. As PM he had to give in to so many demands some of which compromised him.
 
Prof. Rev Canaan Banana the former first President of Zimbabwe was instrumental in bringing together the two political parties Zanu and Zapu in 1987. He later became a diplomat of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). 

Indeed caterpillars are not allowed to use the roads they pioneer.  There will always be people who are very good at wanting to get all the credit. Most Zimbabweans who are close to either side of the 60-year age group fought the war of liberation in various ways. Yes, there were those who sold out. These were in both camps.

In the same vein, there should be respect for this generation. No one looks down upon the role played by those who held guns. But as we all know, there were many who jumped on the bandwagon that may not have actually fought in the war.  Sometimes these are the ones who make a lot of noise by way of compensating for not contributing to the struggle.

From 2003 Bishop Sebastian Bakare of the Anglican Church, Bishop Patrick Mutume of the Catholic Church and Bishop Trevor Manhanga of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe played yet another midwifery role as they shuttled between MDC and Zanu PF when there was a stalemate.

All their efforts, including those of the Christian Alliance which subsequently chaired the Save Zimbabwe Campaign ushered in the government of national unity (GNU) in 2008.

We may have misgivings about the GNU but look at the Constitution.  A very difficult process indeed, but we now have a Constitution which we as Zimbabweans are proud of.

Then the economy of this country took a new turn. It should be the prayer of every Zimbabwean that the phase we are going through be handled holistically so that we benefit from the vast resources this country is endowed with.

Corrupt officials should be held to book.  This is not the time to hide behind political factions while pushing agendas that destroy the nation. The GNU, in spite of its pitfalls, demonstrated that Zimbabweans can at least agree on a number of issues which take this nation forward.

Pastor or layperson we all have the duty to seriously consider our beautiful country first.  All efforts to restore our dignity should be the business of every Zimbabwean worthy of such a name.

Let those with ears hear!

*As The Standard celebrates 20 years, it pays tribute to the late Bornwell Chakaodza who was editor of the paper from 2002 to 2005.

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