HomePoliticsMbeki/church leaders in war of words over Zimbabwe

Mbeki/church leaders in war of words over Zimbabwe

Dumisani Muleya

THE head-on clash between South African President Thabo Mbeki’s office and church leaders over the Zimbabwe crisis intensified this week.

T face=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>Mbeki’s spokesman Bheki Khumalo told the Zimbabwe Independent that despite rancorous accusations by South African clergymen that Pretoria’s “quiet diplomacy” over Zimbabwe is ineffective, there would be no policy shift in the New Year.

“As far as we are concerned, our approach to the Zimbabwe question is the right one under the circumstances and there would will no change in that case,” Khumalo said.

“The church leaders can’t just complain, they have to give us facts on the issues they are raising otherwise their remarks will be taken as self-serving political propaganda.”

Khumalo will tomorrow attack the church leaders over the increasingly acrimonious issue in an article in the Saturday Star. This will almost certainly worsen the row that has been rumbling on over the holiday period.

Church leaders provoked the verbal combat two weeks ago after they criticised Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy” in dealing with the Zimbabwe crisis, saying it was ineffective and hopeless. Stung by the sharp criticism, director-general in the presidency, Reverend Frank Chikane, reacted with anger defending Mbeki’s record on the issue and questioning the motives of the clergymen.

“These church leaders are aware that Mbeki made a detailed presentation on Zimbabwe to the National Religious Leaders Forum, which meets the president twice a year,” Chikane said.

“It is most distressing that Johannesburg’s religious leaders opted to attack the South African government on the basis of information that has not been tested.”

The church leaders had claimed that Mbeki had only met Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai for the first time when he recently visited Zimbabwe.

However, Chikane said it was a “blatant untruth” that Mbeki had only met Tsvangirai three weeks ago. “The president has met Tsvangirai a number of times,” he said. “In addition, our government has been in regular contact with the MDC for almost three years.”

He charged that the religious leaders had resorted to “fabrications and clubbing together with political self-seekers in order to achieve their goals”.

The clergymen from Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist churches in Johannesburg had also said Mbeki’s government had failed to condemn human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. They said “to remain silent any longer renders us complicit in the brutality being visited by Zimbabwean authorities on their own citizens”.

But Chikane said it was untrue that South Africa had not spoken out on human rights violations in Zimbabwe.

In their Christmas-Day counter-punch, the church leaders said Chikane’s statements were “saddening” and “puzzling”.

Anglican Reverend Peter Lee said he had been “saddened” by Chikane’s tone.

“He used strong and inappropriate language,” Lee said. “To be called fabricators was very distressing, especially coming from a fellow member of the clergy. His was a broadside prompted by our statement but had very little to do with its contents.”

Lee said it was curious that Chikane did not mention anything about the massive human rights abuses, including torture and murder, prevalent in Zimbabwe.

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