03 April 2007

Watchman, how much longer the night?

Formerly Rhodesia (named after Cecil Rhodes), Zimbabwe came into existence after Robert Mugabe emerged the winner in the free elections of 1980. And thus the nation's downward spiral began. Mugabe's regime has seen the torture and disappearance of thousands of political opponents. In 1999, he began his program of land reform by forcibly seizing land from whites and redistributing it to blacks. At present, the country is undergoing its worst crisis since independence, with a food shortage and rampant homelessness. The average life expectancy is down to 37, and 5.5 million Zimbabweans are infected with HIV/AIDS. Its annual inflation rate is 1,700%, the highest in the world, and could pass 4,000% by the end of this year.

Mugabe's 2005 initiative, Operation Murambatsvina ("Restore Order"), had as its alleged purpose to clean up the slums of Zimbabwe, but instead had the effect of displacing 700,000 political opponents. The United States and the EU condemned Mugabe's actions last month in breaking up a political rally and arresting Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the largest opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. He was severely beaten, suffering a skull fracture, broken bones, and loss of two pints of blood.

And the crackdown has spread towards Christians. There are reports of Church leaders being harrassed by police to stifle opposition.

Archbishop Pius Ncube (the most outspoken Catholic bishop in Zimbabwe since Mugabe's ascendency) recently joined other bishops to issue a joint statement from the Catholic Bishops Conference, dated for Holy Thursday. The pastoral letter contains strikingly vivid and powerful language directed against the regime:
Our Country is in deep crisis. A crisis is an unstable situation of extreme danger and difficulty. Yet, it can also be turned into a moment of grace and of a new beginning, if those responsible for causing the crisis repent, heed the cry of the people and foster a change of heart and mind especially during the imminent Easter Season, so our Nation can rise to new life with the Risen Lord.

In Zimbabwe today, there are Christians on all sides of the conflict; and there are many Christians sitting on the fence. Active members of our Parish and Pastoral Councils are prominent officials at all levels of the ruling party. Equally distinguished and committed office-bearers of the opposition parties actively support church activities in every parish and diocese. They all profess their loyalty to the same Church. They are all baptised, sit and pray and sing together in the same church, take part in the same celebration of the Eucharist and partake of the same Body and Blood of Christ. While the next day, outside the church, a few steps away, Christian State Agents, policemen and soldiers assault and beat peaceful, unarmed demonstrators and torture detainees.
The suffering people of Zimbabwe are groaning in agony: "Watchman, how much longer the night"? (Is 21:11)
It almost appears as though someone sat down with the Declaration of Human Rights and deliberately scrubbed out each in turn. [S]oon after Independence, the power and wealth of the tiny white Rhodesian elite was appropriated by an equally exclusive black elite, some of whom have governed the country for the past 27 years through political patronage. Black Zimbabweans today fight for the same basic rights they fought for during the liberation struggle. It is the same conflict between those who possess power and wealth in abundance, and those who do not; between those who are determined to maintain their privileges of power and wealth at any cost, even at the cost of bloodshed, and those who demand their democratic rights and a share in the fruits of independence....

The Bible describes oppression in concrete and vivid terms: Oppression is the experience of being crushed, degraded, humiliated, exploited, impoverished, defrauded, deceived and enslaved.
The bishops have called for a day of prayer and fasting for Zimbabwe on Saturday, April 14.

Tangential Factoid
Strangely enough, Mugabe was created an Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994. (Others who have received this honor include Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush Senior.) In 2003, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee proposed that the honor be removed, and a Tory MP has renewed demands to strip him of the knighthood after the recent violence against MDC members. My question is this: why would the Queen bestow such recognition on a known anti-British despot, whose rise to power was the result of a Marxist struggle to oust the Crown?