Guilty of the same sins we condemn in Mugabe

“THIS document is an invitation to all Zimbabweans and all friends of Zimbabwe to dialogue with us so that we can together define a national vision of the Zimbabwe we want, and agree on strategies on how

to get there,” the document drawn up by Zimbabwean churches and presented to President Robert Mugabe last Friday, states.

“The document holds no brief for any political party or preconceived political agenda,” it says. The vision the document seeks is of a “Zimbabwe that will be shared by all, owned by all, and loved by all its citizens regardless of religion, tribe, race, gender or political affiliation”.

The discussion document explains in its preamble the problems that the country has faced since Independence and how the national decline “assumed exponential impetus” with the launch of the hurried and unplanned land reform programme.

“This has manifested in the denudation of professionals and skilled personnel through a massive brain drain into the diaspora, hyperinflation, widespread shortages of essential inputs and basic commodities, decline in agricultural and manufacturing productivity, shortages of foreign currency, escalating corruption, flight of foreign investments, rampant black marketeering in anything ranging from foreign currency to scarce commodities, declared and undeclared sanctions and dwindling tourist arrivals,” the document says. All this has translated into a growing population of urban and rural poor, which has in turn led to “national despair and loss of hope”.

We found the document unusually forthright coming from an ecumenical organisation in pointing out the ills afflicting our society. It condemns “political intolerance, violence with impunity and lack of transparency and accountability” as major obstacles on the road to democracy. The clerics point out the problems caused by laws like Posa and Aippa when they note that “legislation that inhibits peaceful assembly and the free flow and exchange of ideas impairs the efficacy of participatory democracy…”

They also point out the almost inevitable deficiencies of the Lancaster House constitution which they say “was not inspired by the collective consent or consensus” of the people of Zimbabwe.

We were therefore shocked when President Robert Mugabe declared that the Lancaster House constitution was “sacrosanct” and “non-negotiable”.

This was most strange coming from Mugabe who likes to lecture the nation on home-grown economic polices and a home-grown opposition. But soon it was clear. The clerics were right so long as they mentioned all other ills under the sun except “circumscribing” the president’s term of office. All the 17 amendments to the constitution have served to entrench Mugabe’s power and it has therefore become sacrosanct.

Which people is President Mugabe talking about when he says “we fought and people died” for the Lancaster House constitution?

Unfortunately there are many people who have not read the clerics’ discussion paper but have started showing the same polarised intolerance that they condemn in Mugabe and his government.

The bishops stated categorically that the document was no more than a position paper for Zimbabweans to discuss the kind of nation they want without being dogmatic about anything. But we are witnessing irrational prejudices being allowed to cloud reason about their motives.

It is not for the church to say Mugabe must go. It is enough that they have called for a new constitution and a limit to presidential terms, which is what infuriated Mugabe after he was presented with the document.

At the risk of going beyond their mandate, they pointed out most of the egregious laws that all opposition parties and civil society groups say need to be repealed or amended. Why should people want the churches to adopt a confrontational position with Mugabe when what is needed is national dialogue? What have all the pseudo-radical formations and political parties that have declared Mugabe “illegitimate” achieved in the six years since the 2000 elections?

But there was something even more significant in the prelates’ paper. By calling for national dialogue the church has shown that it is looking beyond Mugabe. The vision that they envisage, one of democracy, tolerance, accountability, plenty and of a Zimbabwe that is loved by all and tolerates a diversity of opinion, is well beyond Mugabe. He can no longer see beyond his current office. That is why he doesn’t tolerate challenge. But he cannot prescribe to the entire nation the Zimbabwe we should want. More than that, Mugabe cannot stop the nation discussing the future it wants for itself. He certainly can keep his “sacrosanct” constitution but that’s not what Zimbabwe wants.

Those prematurely attacking the church document need to exercise caution. By tying our future to the removal of Mugabe from office we risk throwing the baby out with the bath water. Just as there is life after State House for Mugabe, there is life for Zimbabwe beyond Mugabe himself. Let’s all go back and read the document before we mislead people and excite passions against the clergymen for collaborating with the establishment.

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