Men of cloth shout out from ringside

Ray Matikinye

ZIMBABWE’S political setting since the highly disputed 2000 general election has witnessed conflicting rejoinders by the clergy to the manifest deficit in civic rights and human rights ab

uses that can be likened to the biblical crucifixion where on both sides of the cross hung two distinct characters.


Both were notorious highwaymen but one received last-minute salvation for his honesty while the other missed a glorious opportunity to enter heaven by remaining an unbeliever in fair play.


Since the religious troika of Sebastian Bakare, Trevor Manhanga and Bishop Patrick Mutume attempted to promote dialogue between Zanu PF and the opposition MDC over the untenable political situation in the country after the disputed polls, two religious standpoints on the country’s destiny have emerged.


The groups are typified by diametrical religious postulations.


On the one hand is Reverend Obediah Msindo, the suave, energetic orator and youthful leader of Destiny for Africa Network championing President Robert Mugabe’s continued rule as part of the predestined fate of Zimbabweans alongside the likes of Anglican archbishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga.


Some view Msindo as a government apologist for his routine deification of Mugabe.


“We have no apologies to make in identifying ourselves with Zanu PF because we closely work with the Zanu PF government, preach about total restoration and full control of our resources including land,” says Msindo, who regards his quasi-religious organisation as Afro-centric.


Msindo says Mugabe was God-ordained and merits respect from the world’s downtrodden for his pan-African socialist demagoguery.


On the other is the Catholic bishop of Bulawayo diocese, Pius Ncube, an arch-critic of government excesses and soiled human rights record whom Mugabe has consistently vilified as a “wolf in sheep skin”.


The Catholic bishop has nettled Mugabe for years with forthright condemnation of his rule.


When the state media unleashed a barrage of criticism after he was chosen to co-lead two aid funds with Desmond Tutu, Ncube retorted: “Why should they attack me and skirt real issues affecting the country? We need good governance and we do not want to be abused by a dictator.”


Ncube, who is among a long list of prominent Zimbabweans including journalists that have been tagged traitors by a recent ruling party publication, together with other clergymen seeks to rein in on the government’s waywardness.


Msindo and Ncube represent diametrical standpoints regarding the political situation that has been obtaining in Zimbabwe.


“We are yet to enjoy the gains of liberation,” says Bishop Mutume, bemoaning how the country had fallen from being a beacon of hope at independence in 1980 to a cowed nation without the freedom, justice or peace that thousands of Zimbabweans died fighting for during the country’s bitter independence war of the 1970s. He says Zimbabweans everywhere are living in fear because they are threatened and intimidated by the ruling party’s hired men.


Mutume told a recent national prayer meeting in Harare: “Why do we allow those we give power to use that power to suppress us? We thought by finishing the struggle for independence we would get peace. But why are we still praying for peace and justice?”


Msindo countermands like-minded critics saying some pastors are agents of evil who have joined hands with the opposition in criticising the government.

“Trevor Manhanga, Pius Ncube and Sebastian Bakare are always one-sided in accusing Zanu PF of being violent and never condemning the behaviour of other parties. Such pastors who claim to be apolitical are deceptive,” Msindo says.


Church organisations have witnessed an upsurge in membership as people seek solace in spiritual gatherings largely because of economic hardships and the stress associated with modern day uncertainties thus becoming a significant constituency.


But more importantly, public scepticism has built up around Destiny for Africa Network’s seemingly unexplained benevolence. The organisation has pioneered multi-million-dollar urban housing projects where in Harare alone 2 000 residential stands have been opened up along Seke Road outside the capital.


The urban housing project envisages providing 1 000 more residential stands. Other largesse programmes include oil-extracting machines, peanut butter-making machines and even pairs of shoes and cycles to other clerics, during ceremonies often accompanied by toadying to the government.

“We borrow funds from the Youth Development, Gender and Employment Creation ministry, the central bank as well as well-wishers and members of the public who peg what interest they want for the money they lend to prospective homeowners,” says Catherine Rusike, events manager for Destiny for Africa Network.


She says her organisation then applies to local authorities for residential stands for its members’ benefit. “The organisation only facilitates the transfer of money from providers to beneficiaries and the other way round,” she says.

Msindo says it is wrong for religious organisations to condition Christians to poverty saying this is the reason his organisation is fighting for economic empowerment.


Chairman of the Media and Information Commission, Tafataona Mahoso, likens bishops Ncube and Tutu to reactionary clerics of the 1970s, accusing them of working for Anglo-Saxon imperialism.


“Today’s bishops Desmond Tutu and Pius Ncube are big liars because they have to couch their venom against Africans in sweet human rights language,” he says.


He says the two clerics have to adjust and put on sheep’s clothes to promote Anglo-Saxon hege-mony.


“Their language has been adjusted to human rights, democracy, free flow of information, humanitarian relief, rule of law and dialogue,” Mahoso asserts.


The situation leaves the Christian public in a dilemma. Either they remain poor and enjoy civic and other rights or choose material empowerment at the cost of allowing a sustained abridgement of their human rights.

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