Thursday, July 18, 2013

Zimbabwe Council of Churches Pastoral Letter to the Nation July 2013

A call for peace to the nation during the election season Introduction We as the Zimbabwe Council of Churches heads of churches meeting on 19 June 2013 issued this pastoral letter which is borne out of our compelling mission as the Shepherds of God’s flock through Jesus’ message to Peter in John 21 that says “If you love me, tend my sheep”. This is a mission that derives its legitimacy from God Himself as manifested in his Son our Lord Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd and eternal Head of the Church. We have a God given Biblical and theological mandate to guide the nation and all leaders in making God’s voice to be heard at particular times when He chooses to speak to His people on issues of justice, peace, reconciliation, poverty and the liberation of the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). As the custodians and facilitators of God’s mission, we are obliged to “stand up and proclaim” the will of God, whenever His people are faced with difficult situations that threaten or deny them fullness of life (John 10:10). In the same way we applaud and encourage positive actions and developments. We continue to do so in conformity with our calling through preaching the Gospel of truth, justice, peace, reconciliation, unity and love as entrusted to us by the Lord Jesus Christ. New constitution We welcome and celebrate with pride, the new constitution that His Excellency President Robert Mugabe signed into law on 22 May 2013 following the overwhelming public endorsement in the 16 March referendum. We salute the determination, commitment and patience shown by the political leaders and the people of Zimbabwe in concluding this important process. The support of Zimbabwe’s neighbours in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) was crucial towards the achievement of this milestone. This new constitution marks a new chapter in the continuing struggle for democracy, good governance, rule of law and economic development. These are ideals that began with the national liberation struggles against colonialism and oppression. We remind the nation that having a new constitution is just the beginning. Zimbabweans must internalize all the values enshrined in the new constitution and live by them if the supreme law is to make a difference in our lives. Our collective task as the nation of Zimbabwe, is to make our new constitution a living document that shapes our conduct, guides our actions, and that constantly reminds all of us to cherish freedom, equality, peace, justice, tolerance, prosperity, patriotism and unity in our rich diversity. May this, our new constitution be the glue that binds us together as one nation, as we march towards our common destiny. May our new-found values of peace, tolerance, respect for human rights and the rule of law enshrined in our new constitution guide us in the lead up to, during and after the coming harmonised elections. We encourage those who will be elected as Councillors, Parliamentarians and Senators to make sure that the new constitution will reach their constituencies and is explained in the language that people understand to avoid wrong interpretations. Harmonized elections: a “KAIROS” moment Today the nation of Zimbabwe is at cross-roads; a decisive moment, commonly called KAIROS in theological terms, when God’s people are faced with making life-changing choices as they seek God’s guidance. Such times call for pragmatic reflection, looking back and forth. Once again, we reiterate our message of peace and tolerance to all political parties and their leaders as they campaign for votes in the General Elections. Men and women of faith should play a positive role in maintaining sanity in all political processes. We must avoid blood-shed, abductions and other forms of violence that characterized the June 2008 elections. Our prayer is that even those who suffered this trauma will still see the value of voting. Our campaign must instill confidence to people who are living in fear because of memories of the last elections. We also encourage the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to continue to strive for transparency, honesty and excellence so that those who lose the election will not pinpoint to the electoral systems which results in disputed elections. It is our hope and prayer that this election will not result in a controversial outcome that will lead into another negotiated settlement to create a unity government. Let us accept and respect the people’s choices. When the time comes, let us pray first, and then go to the polls, hoping and trusting God to use that process to choose the next generation of leaders and government. Zimbabwe needs God fearing and peace-loving leaders: not corrupt and evil rulers. Our pastoral message to political leaders is that it is possible to have peaceful elections in Zimbabwe. This is evidenced by the peace that prevailed on 16 March 2013 during the referendum. It is possible to win an election without engaging in violence, intimidation and vote buying. Our message to those in authority is that they should put in place transparent electoral and political processes that are also sensitive to special groups such as children, the disabled and those living positively with HIV/AIDS. We emphasize that peace is only possible where there is justice and fairness. As the church, we are reminding the nation that justice to the underprivileged is one of God’s demands to those in authority. Our message to all Zimbabweans is that as we approach the elections, let the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world”, (Matthew 5:13) ring in the mind of every citizen. Consistent with this message and inspired by “…faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6), let us all seek and work together to offer the fruits of that love, which are, among others: transparency, reconciliation, tolerance, peace, justice and fairness (Galatians 5:22). We demand these virtues from leaders of: all political parties, security services, the media, ZEC, Civil Society Organisations, and other relevant government departments, some of whom are part of our flock. As we make these demands we should continue to admonish and pray for these institutions so that they are inspired to do what is right in the discharge of their duties. We emphasize that reconciliation; tolerance and justice are essential ingredients in the process of building a peaceful Zimbabwe. Therefore we should cherish these virtues. Violence during campaigns and elections worsens the situation. Let us put Zimbabwe first and our personal interests last. We also condemn hate language with a strong voice in both private and public media. First and foremost we are Zimbabweans before we become political leaders. This pastoral letter is a trumpet call to Christians in Zimbabwe to dedicate Sunday 21 July for the Cathedral or pulpit call for peace in Zimbabwe. All churches are requested to focus on peace during their worship services. Church leaders are invited to lead their flock in a special pledge and covenant of peace with God. The rallying text on this day is John 14:27a: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you”. Issued by, African Independent Church African Methodist Church in Zimbabwe African Methodist Episcopal Church African Reformed Church Anglican Diocese of Harare Anglican Diocese of Central Zimbabwe Anglican Diocese of Matabeleland Anglican Diocese of Manicaland Anglican Diocese of Masvingo Baptist Convention of Zimbabwe Christian Marching Church Church of Christ in Zimbabwe Church of Central Africa Presbyterian ELCZ Central Diocese ELCZ Western Diocese ELCZ Eastern Diocese Independent African Church (Mushakata) Methodist Church in Zimbabwe United Church of Christ in Zimbabwe Reformed Church in Zimbabwe Salvation Army Presbyterian Church of Africa Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa United Congregational Church (SA) United Methodist Church Ziwezano Church

Statement by Southern African religious leaders at the conclusion of a solidarity visit to Zimbabwe

16July 2013 In solidarity with the churches and the people of Zimbabwe, we as religious leaders from the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa (FOCCISA) have been in Zimbabwe from the 7th of July to the 10th of July on a solidary visit ahead of elections. During the solidarity visit our delegation of 12, which was in the country at the invitation of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches(ZCC) visited Chinhoyi, Bindura, Harare, Masvingo, Mutare, Gweru, and Bulawayo. We met with Zimbabwean church leaders, civic leaders and officials in government departments responsible for the conduct of elections and we were able to convey the message of unity. We were able to hear from them, the country’s state of preparedness for the polls, assess and gain greater understanding of the situation in the country. We had come to share, learn and pray with Zimbabweans and offer support for them to find solutions that will allow the country to arrive at reconciliation and rebuild the nation. We urge Zimbabweans to set aside denominational and personal differences as the country goes through what is potentially a divisive election period when political tensions are heightened. We implore them not to engage in utterances or actions that may threaten the rule of law, peace and security. We would like to see a free and fair election which is held according to the laws of the country, reflects the will of the people of Zimbabwe and meets international standards for democratic elections. We urge the church to speak out clearly on all issues that relate to the conduct of free and fair elections and the wellbeing of the country. Our observation as the Church informed by the recent visit is that there are difficulties sorrounding preparations for these Elections, a view shared by the leadership of the Church in Zimbabwe. We therefore call on the entire Church in the Sub-Region, Region and the World to pray for Peace, to be prophetic and exercise its pastoral responsibility and solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe. We request the Church throughout the world to join the Church in Zimbabwe on an Ecumenical Cathedral on the 21st July 2013, to pray for the Elections and Peace in Zimbabwe. Beloved of God, the God that we serve is a God of miracles and he is able to create something good out of chaos. Political violence There remain justifiable concerns about the threat of violence and the resurgence of political violence which has marred previous elections and which could threaten national peace and security. Civic society players and church leaders we met during the course of our visit spoke of the need for political commitment to the political parties’ code of conduct. which is aimed at minimizing political conflict and eradicating intimidation. They also said there were grave concerns in too many parts of the country about possible post-election retribution as happened in 2008 when certain sections of the population suffered for their choices. The unpredictability of what lies ahead has become a great source of concern for many. We urge the police and other security agents to stand aside and allow the vote to proceed without intimidation. We the churches of Southern Africa do not want to see a repeat of the political violence of 2008. We will continue to advocate for the observance of the rule of law, the respect and promotion of human rights. Disenfranchisement of voters We received with concern reports about delays in the registration process and the challenges faced by so called “aliens” in obtaining identity documents which would have allowed them to register to vote. There is a mismatch between the situation on the ground and the provisions of the new constitution in regard to these “aliens”. The process of renouncing their citizenship of other countries and trying to get new documentation was laborious and left many unable to register. Many Zimbabweans in rural areas we were told, found the distances they had to travel to registration centres long, while the registration requirements were an additional burden to this section of the population. More could have been done to inform the nation about the requirements for voter registration. All these issues have disenfranchised thousands of Zimbabweans and are likely compound voter apathy. The role of the church We noted with sadness that some political parties have divided the churches and have attempted to manipulate them for political gain. We therefore implore the church to remain united and not to be used to serve narrow political interests. Religious leaders were in some places being forced to attend political meetings. The churches have a critical role to play in reducing tensions. We encourage the church through its extended country-wide networks to use prayer meetings and civic education to openly campaign for peace. The church should take up the crucial role of intercession through mobilizing Zimbabweans to pray for a peaceful election process. Media access The churches and civic groups we met also bemoaned the lack of equal access by political parties to the media in particular the state owned media. Sadly media coverage in much of the press was tainted with glaring bias. All media is urged to refrain from using hate language and to ensure fair and accurate reporting of the entire electoral process from the campaigns to the tallying of votes. Participation of women, youth and Christians Sadly it was noted that there did not exist an enabling environment for the participation in politics of youth, women and Christians and as a result they remained at the periphery of politics. In some Christian quarters, the reason for this is that politics is regarded as dirty. We are also concerned about the distribution of beer at political meetings and rallies especially among young people as this was viewed as a way of buying youth votes. The role of observers Concerns were raised about the role of election observers who were too often quick to declare elections free and fair. Observers should be cautious in coming up with reports on the conduct of elections and are urged to include the views of as broad a section of the population as possible. The members of the ecumenical delegation wish to thank everyone they met for their openness and, in particular, ZCC for welcoming and accompanying the delegation round the country. By sharing their combined experience the ecumenical team will hopefully strengthen the capacity of religious communities and networks to observe the polls. They can share best practice and contribute to the observance of standards demanded by church for the holding of free elections. The church can bring together various players to enrich responses to challenges faced by Zimbabweans. We will continue to offer support in the seeking of solutions that will allow Zimbabweans to arrive at reconciliation and make recommendations that will help mitigate and prevent future conflict. We call on the leadership and citizens of Zimbabwe, to be tolerant and maintain Peace. All should put the country first, for Zimbabwe cannot afford the battering it received following the 2008 Elections. The Church will continue to engage the leadership of the Region under SADC and relevant stakeholders and alert them to the fears and aspirations of the people of Zimbabwe. Scripture declares and faith accepts that Peace is not an option but a Gospel imperative: “What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love kindness & walk humbly with Him.” (Micah 6:6-8), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). Our prayer is that Peace, Justice, Tolerance, Fairness, Reconciliation and all the other Values of the Kingdom of God may prevail in Zimbabwe during the upcoming Elections. The members of the ecumenical delegation were: Rev Mmachakga Mpho Moruakgomo- Botswana (Head of delegation),Rev. Lucas Amosse – Board Mozambique Council- Mozambique, Rev. Pearson Banda- Zambia, Rev. Chizason Chunda- Zambia, Rev. Suzanne Matale –Zambia, Rev. Gideon C. M. Dlamini- Swaziland, Mr Godfrey Mkandawire- Malawi, Rev. Rupert Isaac Hambira Botswana, Bishop Gilford Immanuel Matonga- Malawi, Rev. Gosiame Goodenough Chaobi- South Africa, Mrs Elma Dienda Namibia, Mrs Masara Idlette Mathaha -Lesotho