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Chakaipa’s successor must be man of his time

By Paul Taylor

RESPECT for the dead is ingrained in our culture: “afa anaka”, says the Shona proverb: “(Say only) good of the dead.” But sometimes we owe the dead and the living the trut


These thoughts crossed my mind following the death of Archbishop Patrick Chakaipa of Harare. He believed in Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

I believe we have a special duty to him, to his church and to our country, to tell the truth about his life’s work.

And the truth is that much of the criticism that was directed at the late archbishop – and I speak as a critic – was misconceived and misdirected.

A lot of humbug was written, for example, about Chakaipa’s decision to allow Robert Mugabe’s marriage to Grace. It was a decision Chakaipa reached with great reluctance and not a little annoyance. But the marriage regularised a continuing relationship and legitimated the adulterine children of that relationship. Chakaipa did the right, charitable and loving thing. Yes, he saved embarrassment to Mugabe, but more importantly, he gave certain innocent children the status of legitimates under the law of the church.

One suspects that many of those who disapproved of Chakaipa’s action were not motivated by Christian principle but out of hatred of Mugabe. If every philanderer in Zimbabwe were to be judged strictly in accordance with the Gospels our churches would have fewer congregants. And probably very many fewer ministers too.

The archbishop was a kind man. The late Father David Gibbs, one of his clergy, spoke of his courtesy and thoughtfulness to the religious of his see. He did all he could to ensure that the right person found himself in the right place. In Gibbs’s case, this meant a posting to Seke where he was a single white Zimbabwean in a place where most Zimbabweans are black.

Archbishop Chakaipa saw beyond melanin. Gibbs found acceptance, love and great happiness among his flock.

Chakaipa was a man of peace. He was once referred to allusively by one of those crusty people who often write letters to newspapers as “patron of the violence” of hondo yeminda. Nothing could be further from the truth.

He agonised over Mugabe’s jambanja, as Archbishop Pius Ncube was quick to point out after his funeral. He decried violence of any form, of any nature: he spoke at a Harare Church rally against racist violence in particular. As Bishop Muchabaiwa said at the funeral, Chakaipa was a man who advocated the paths of peace and believed deeply in reconciliation between all the peoples of Zimbabwe.

It is not necessary to repeat every good thing that flowed from Archbishop Chakaipa’s life of service to his country and church. He was a man of spiritual depths and diverse intellectual attainments. Professor George Kahari has written a whole scholarly volume about the archbishop’s moral philosophy. Others have written of his seminal contribution to Zimbabwean literature. With his personal gifts and virtues he blessed the country and his church in many ways.

The criticisms of the archbishop that matter significantly in my view are all connected to the quasi-political role which his office required him to perform. It was perhaps his God-given destiny that his life – and ultimately his death – mirrored the tumultuous national life of Zimbabwe.

Without any doubt, the moment of great triumph in the life of Archbishop Chakaipa came at Independence in 1980 when he stood higher than hope on a podium with Robert Mugabe, the elected leader of Zimbabwe, as our country at last reached its appointment with destiny. Kind history will best remember Chakaipa on that day.

Sadly, history will also record the second defining moment when Chakaipa, together with other members of the hierarchy of the Zimbabwean Catholic Church, decided not to endorse the publication of Breaking the Silence, Building True Peace, the report jointly prepared by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and the Legal Resources Foundation on the Gukurahundi atrocities in Matabeleland and the Midlands. The decision was a disgraceful one.

It created a perception in the minds of many people that some of our bishops were the commissars of Zanu PF at prayer who wished only to protect and promote the image of Mugabe, their fellow Catholic, and his heir and Gukurahundi co-conspirator, Emmerson Mnangagwa. It created a perception that some Zimbabweans, who had suffered so mightily and cruelly at the hands of Mugabe and Mnangagwa, were to be seen as God’s step-children, people whose welfare the church did not really care to protect or promote.

The decision was not taken, I hasten to add, by Chakaipa alone but he and a number of other bishops ensured that the church effectively disowned their document.

Deeply regrettable things were said in private at the time. One senior bishop commented that the Gukurahundi atrocities were to be understood as the revenge of one ethnic group for atrocities committed a hundred years previously by the ancestors of another ethnic group. The words were uttered in confidence. They grew wings, as words of such a nature inevitably do. I make no apology for repeating them here. They have been corroborated by different sources. And Chakaipa was not the senior bishop who uttered those words.

At Easter the Catholic Bishops Conference issued an eloquent statement calling for Metanoia, or conversion, of the human heart. Now is the time to ask Bishop Muchabaiwa, president of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, whether he will promise that the bishops will at last undergo their own Metanoia and acknowledge their own lack of charity and their failures before the victims of Gukurahundi, before the people of Zimbabwe and before God, by finally re-publishing Breaking the Silence and commending it to the attention of the local and international community. If the ZCBC president cannot do that, we can be sure that God will judge.

A third defining moment in the life of Archbishop Chakaipa came on St Patrick’s Day last year, when in the presence of Bishop Muchabaiwa and Bishop Patrick Mutume, Robert Mugabe inaugurated himself as president once more. The wheel had turned full circle since 1980: the liberator and champion of the people’s sovereignty had become the oppressor and thief of sovereignty. It was the tragedy of the Catholic leadership that in attending the farcical event they placed their personal relationship with Mugabe over their duty to Zimbabwe that day. In a sense the behaviour of the Catholic bishops was worse than that of Norbert “barking dogs” Kunonga.

At the archbishop’s funeral, Mugabe seized on the opportunity to portray himself as the faithful friend and soul mate of the dead clergyman.

Chakaipa was not enough of a “hero” to lie at Heroes Acre – that would have been a fate worse than death – but the truth is that Mugabe was his friend over the years and he was Mugabe’s.

In his speech at the graveside Mugabe acknowledged the role Patrick Chakaipa had played over the years. He asked: “Sekuru zvamaenda mazano atanga tichipiwa topihwa nani? Tichatarisira kuti chechi ichatipa munhu watichange tichishanda naye sezvataiita nemi. (Uncle now that you are gone who is going to counsel us? We hope the church will give us a person we can work with in the same way we did with you).”

We Catholics must pray that the church does no such thing. Robert Mugabe is an old man. He and Mnangagwa and their friends in the church are yesterday’s men. Whoever replaces Patrick Chakaipa must be a man for tomorrow.

*  Paul Taylor writes on civic issues.

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