Monday, May 19, 2014

Let's acknowledge Men of the Cloth in Politics

One finds it very puzzling to hear some politicians say that politics is an area other sectors of society like the church should not be involved in – a very Zimbabwean outlook indeed.  Why is that so?  I am not in any way trying to push pastors into the fray. Perhaps history can enlighten us as to 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 TD Samkange of the Methodist Church. He was chosen president of the Bantu Congress in 1943.

They were fighting against racism whereby blacks were not allowed to enter shops but only buy their goods 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 Highfields house.  At a party congress in Gwelo, Sithole was elected president and appointed Mugabe as secretary general.  This does not necessarily mean that all these church leaders wanted to be presidents. They were chosen by the people to facilitate a process at a time when they were the most respected in African society.  Their role was to fight against racism on behalf of blacks. I am sure they did not even enjoy their role because of the risks involved then.

Some of the pastors who went into politics have had to experience a lot of mudslinging in the process because they wanted to be honest to their call as shepherds of the people . Our society is very good at character assassination, and this has happened to many and has been done with impunity.

The question I am asking is:  Should we let things go on like this, namely  that the capable people from among the clergy who want to exercise their role as shepherds and mediate in politics  be scared away because they get bullied in the process?

In the late seventies the Rev Andrew Majoni Ndhlela of the Methodist Church went both to Geneva and 
Lancaster House Conference offering chaplaincy to all parties at both meetings. 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 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 were considerable efforts made by church leaders at the time. At home the Rev Herbert Chikomo of the Presbyterian Church became the first General Secretary of RCC.  Threats were made by the Smith regime to close the Council because it was supporting the war of liberation.

However, the Council continued its work unafraid and in 1967 formed  Christian Care as a social welfare arm which became a lifeline for the political detainees by paying fees for their children and providing food to their families. Political prisoners themselves were provided with fees to further their education.

What is surprising and rather absurd now is that the church is told to keep its hands off politics by the very beneficiaries who enjoyed church support when in detention.  They seem to have the misleading view that they have a monopoly of deciding what is right or wrong for people in this nation.   However, we are in it all of us. Politics affect everybody, and all citizens have a democratic right to have a say in their future. As a church we pray for our leaders, but we do not stop there. The church has the duty to look after those in leadership positions because of the crucial role they play in determining the future of this 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 do so.  He passed on the baton to Bishop Abel Muzorewa who was also a beneficiary of such a scholarship. Whatever people may say about the late Bishop Muzorewa, he played the midwifery role to the birth of independence for 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. Admittedly, there were those who actually sold out, but 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 of war that may have never carried any guns at all.  Sometimes these are the ones who make a lot of noise by way of compensation.

From 2003 Bishop Bakare of the Anglican Church, Bishop Mutume of the Catholic Church and Bishop Manhanga of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe played yet another midwifery role as they shuttled between MDC and ZANU PF when there was a high degree of polorisation  between the two parties. All their efforts including those of the Christian Alliance, which subsequently chaired the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, made a contribution towards the Government of National Unity (GNU) that was eventually ushered 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 with due consideration to all stakeholders so that we benefit from the vast resources this country is endowed with.

Corrupt officials should be held to account.  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 took this nation forward. Clergy 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.

Rev Dr Levee Kadenge

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