19 November 2017, The Tablet

Bishops warn that will of all Zimbabweans must be respected

by James Roberts , Marko Phiri in Zimbabwe

Any transition must embrace "all Zimbabweans in their diversity and their oneness".

Bishops warn that will of all Zimbabweans must be respected

On the day that Robert Mugabe faces leaders of the army and of the ruling Zanu PF party, designed to engineer his resignation as President of Zimbabwe, the country's Catholic bishops issued a statement on the crisis that has been unfolding since Tuesday evening.

In the first step towards his removal as president ZANU PF announced his removal from the party leadership and his replacement by the man he sacked as Vice President earlier this month, Emmerson Mnangagwa . This means that as president he has no power base whatsoever and it is likely to be only a matter of time before his forced resignation, following further conversations with the military. At a press conference in Harare, a ZANU PF spokesman said that Mugabe had been given until midday tomorrow [Monday] to resign as president of Zimbabwe, or face impeachment.

Apart from being allowed to attend the graduation ceremony at the University of Zimbabwe on Friday, Mr Mugabe has been held under house arrest for the past five days with the army in control of the streets and of the national broadcaster ZBC.
The events were triggered by the sacking of vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa to make way for Mugabe's wife Grace, who has not been seen in public since Tuesday.
Yesterday tens of thousands of people thronged the streets of Harare, second city Bulawayo, and other centres, in peaceful demonstrations demanding that Mugabe makes a speedy exit.
In an extraordinary show of unity in a country where, in the later decades of Mugabe's 37-year rule, the army and ruling party has set its face against the popular will, and the so-called war veterans have acted as his personal stormtroopers crushing his enemies, ruling party members, war veterans, opposition and civil society leaders and the ordinary people who have struggled to survive in an economy ruined by his policies, spoke with one voice to demand his exit.
The army was clearly under orders to maintain a benign presence, and soldiers were embraced by the protesters.
The future of governance of the country is still in the balance, however, and this uncertainty is addressed by the bishops in their pastoral statement.
They have been following "recent tense events", they say, in the context of the "increased economic hardship for ordinary Zimbabweans".
Robert Mugabe
It was a "drastic" deterioration in the atmosphere in the country that led to the army's intervention, they acknowledge.
They show full awareness of what is at stake, who is in charge, and express clearly what the priorities of those people must be.
"We, your Shepherds, encourage those central to these delicate processes, (particularly the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and the political leadership) so that they maintain the best interests of the nation as a priority and continue to work tirelessly for a peaceful end to the crisis."
The "entire population" is concerned about the process, they say, reminding army and politicians that this is not only a power struggle within the ranks of the ruling party.
Any transition must embrace "all Zimbabweans in their diversity and their oneness".
Normality can only be achieved through a "participatory process in a democratic way". And in a firm appeal to avoid bloodshed, they affirm: "All life is precious. The preservation of lives must be paramount."
They go on to appeal to everyone to avoid "utterances that increase tension, engender hatred, or inflame emotions."
Those accused of crimes, they add, must be accorded due process, the courts must be independent, and the constitution respected.
The statement shows a clear perception of the crossroads at which the country stands, and the possible paths that lie ahead. There is a danger that if, as is expected Emmerson Mnangagwa assumes power, authoritarian rule will continue.
His past record in government is marked by the bloody crushing of opposition. Opposition forces today are positioning themselves to try to ensure that if he does take over, he will be accountable and answerable to the democratic process. The Church has made clear where it stands on that question.
REFLECTION AND RECOMMENDATIONS ON OUR CURRENT SITUATION IN ZIMBABWE: Pastoral Statement of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference
Following the Ongoing Events Since Wednesday 15 November 2017, published Sunday 19 November 2017.
The Church has keenly and prayerfully followed the recent tense events in the country. The Church has also observed the increased economic hardship for ordinary Zimbabweans.
The atmosphere has drastically deteriorated culminating in the current intervention by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
Let us pray for our country as we continue to watch developments carefully.
We, your Shepherds, encourage those central to these delicate processes (particularly the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and the political leadership) that they maintain the best interests of the nation as a priority and continue to work tirelessly for a peaceful end to the crisis and to speedy return to normalcy and Constitutional order.
Let us be mindful of the fact that besides those who took action and those involved in the ongoing delicate process, the entire population is concerned about the process as well as the future of the country.
Beyond this crisis a sustainable normalisation of Zimbabwe can only be achieved through a people inclusive and participatory process in a democratic way. The governance of Zimbabwe in any transition that may be adopted must embrace all Zimbabweans in their diversity and their oneness. The nation needs to develop a culture of free and fair elections, referenda and consultations.
All life is precious. The preservation of lives must be paramount and for that, it is essential that peace, law and order be maintained especially in these most delicate times. We ask that everyone exercises great restraint and patience in these tense times and that the people refrain from all lawlessness or any mass action that might worsen the situation. 
We also implore all opinion leaders, all media, and the entire population to refrain from conduct and utterances that increase tension, engender hatred or inflame emotions. We discourage sensationalism, false news and all forms of hate media as these pose a grave danger to the peacefulness of the ongoing process and sustainability of peace.
Let us take note that those accused of crimes must at all times be accorded due process and protection of the law and that the role of the Civil Courts as independent arbiters continues unhindered as per the Constitution and as promised by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
Let us as one family continue to pray for a peaceful and just outcome to the present situation in our country. Let us join in daily prayers for our nation individually and collectively.
+Michael D. Bhasera, Bishop of Masvingo and Apostolic Administrator of Gweru (ZCBC President)
+Robert C. Ndlovu, Archbishop of Harare and Apostolic Administrator of Chinhoyi (ZCBC Vice President)
+Alex Thomas, Archbishop of Bulawayo (ZCBC Secretary/Treasurer)
+Albert Serrano, Bishop of Hwange
+Paul Horan, Bishop of Mutare
+Rudolf Nyandoro, Bishop of Gokwe
Pictures: Protesters in Zimbabwe, and Robert Mugabe at the University of Zimbabwe. Pic credit: PA

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