Candid Comment

Biggest sin the bishops committed

By Joram Nyathi


WHEN it comes to discussing national issues, Zimbabweans are a pathetic lot. The bigotry and self-righteousness are sickening. The latest display of

intolerance for rational dialogue was sparked by The Zimbabwe We Want document and it has brought out the worst among people you would expect to exercise reason. Even open distortions of that document have become currency to prove how Bishop Trevor Manhanga and his group want to “buy time for this regime”.


The first is the issue of what President Mugabe said was “non-negotiable”. The Christian Alliance camp believes he referred to the constitution and that means there can be no dialogue. You won’t believe that the issue of a new constitution has been outstanding since before the February 2000 referendum.


The biggest sin that the bishops committed, from all that I have read, was not to end every sentence in their document with the phrase “and Mugabe is to blame”. In an interview with Violet Gonda on SWRadio’s Hotseat programme, Dr John Makumbe was forthright, asking Manhanga, “Did you blame him?”


This referred to the bishops’ meeting with President Mugabe. Is this not the “bravado” that Morgan Tsvangirai accused Lovemore Madhuku of? What would Manhanga achieve, for instance, by glaring at Mugabe in front of TV cameras and saying “You murderer, you should leave State House now. People are hungry and angry because of Murambatsvina?” Beyond sensational headlines like Dzikamai Mavhaire’s “Mugabe must go” what would that “blame” achieve?


Manhanga explained what is already in their document about sovereignty, independence, ownership of national resources and freedom from foreign domination. These are the issues Mugabe said were non-negotiable.


When you read or hear that the bishops are buying time for the regime, you would imagine that their document precludes any militant alternatives that have been proposed since the formation of the MDC in 1999. How come we haven’t moved an inch? If anything things have gotten worse, including Operation Murambatsvina and Project Sunrise.


Then somebody has the shameless nerve to ask Manhanga: “Where were you when ZCTU leaders were beaten?” But that is the question for all of us, the entire civic society movement and opposition parties. Where were they and where were the bishops supposed to be?


Our discussions are now framed in the Zanu PF mindset. Those who did not fight in the Independence war have no right to aspire to rule this country. Now those who have never been arrested or beaten by police have no right to speak of democracy. There are no latecomers, otherwise you want to steal the limelight from the “real” fighters.


Anybody who suggests an alternative belongs to Zanu PF. It doesn’t alarm them that government spin-doctors are uneasy with the radical position adopted Manhanga’s camp regarding the church’s mandate and its involvement in the political affairs of its flock, presidential term limits and a new constitution.


Having tried to denounce the bishops’ The Zimbabwe We Want document, Makumbe was asked the way forward. This was his response: “What we need is a roundtable, Zanu PF, MDC, Christian Alliance and the group, I don’t know what they call themselves … the vision group”. So who is the “we” who have a licence to talk to Zanu PF and Mugabe when all others are seen as sellouts for proposing a national dialogue that embraces all key stakeholders? It’s back to the old political paradigm: if you are not with us you are against us.


There is no disagreement on what the bishops proposed. The difference is that you must be “a known critic of Mugabe”. Bishop Levee Kadenge admitted in the same interview that their documents were similar. He was not worried by the “product” but by the “process” which they have agreed was guided by Zanu PF. It’s only “we” who should talk to Zanu PF.


Declared Makumbe: “We know the Zimbabwe we want. The Zimbabwe we want is without Mugabe as president.” Is freedom really that simple? Is that what they are going to declare at the imaginary “roundtable” with Zanu PF?


The problem with this posturing militancy is that it panders to the illusion that Zanu PF and President Mugabe have no supporters. The reason we are stuck in this crisis is because those deceiving voters
in this way tend to believe their own propaganda and stop investing energy in building party structures because they imagine they own the electorate. This is despite Zanu PF proving them wrong over and over again.


Many of us dream of the Zimbabwe portrayed in the bishops’ document. There is no rivalry among the poor about how we attain it so long as they get to live its ideals. Mugabe cannot be wished away by simply sounding hostile, militant and critical. It is action that will move Mugabe, not weak opposition forces fighting to claim credit for chickens that have not hatched.


I can imagine Mugabe taking the bishops’ document to the AU, the UN General Assembly or the EU and telling them: “You see, my people don’t want all these things you claim for them about democracy — free elections, property rights, investment, access to education and healthcare, personal security, an end to violence, an independent judiciary, an equitable land reform process, peaceful elections and a free press or a new constitution. This is the document I drafted for the Zimbabwe I imagined they wanted. They have rejected it because they don’t like me. But I am not God and will not live forever. So leave my Zimbabweans alone.”


The document’s greatest merit is its sober simplicity, its lack of bitterness or personalised rancour. In its humanness and big-heartedness, it is a document that Nelson Mandela could have written. Its weakness is that it is too optimistic, painting an idyllic society even for the most advanced democracies. But that is also its virtue because a national vision should be attainable but never attained. Unfortunately Zimbabweans have been so poisoned in their reasoning and thinking by the incumbent regime that they divide themselves well before Zanu PF has noticed that there is a groundswell of opposition building up. We are our own worst enemies.

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