Thursday, May 22, 2003

Christians stand firm against Mugabe's repression in Zimbabwe.


Sadly, the Roman Catholic Church is just as timorous as the Anglican. Robert Mugabe’s second marriage to his wife Gracie was officiated by Archbishop Patrick Chakaipa, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Zimbabwe. Chakaipa’s attendance caused offence in some strait-laced Zimbabwean circles, since the President had enjoyed an adulterous relationship with Gracie before the death of his first wife, and two children were born out of wedlock. Other churchmen feared that by sanctioning the Mugabe marriage, the Church was condoning the regime and undermining its own prophetic role. Chakaipa remained on good terms with Mugabe. When the archbishop died three weeks ago, the President sought to declare him a ‘national hero’. Pius Ncube[Archbishop of Bulawayo, outspoken critic of the regime] spoke out against this move, declaring that ‘national hero status is political and the archbishop was not a politician’. In the end, Chakaipa was laid to rest at Chishawasha, a Roman Catholic mission. Robert Mugabe gave an oration at the funeral. Pius Ncube approached him during the Peace and shook his hand ‘just to show that I have nothing personal against him’.

Ncube is an astonishing man, fighting a private battle against despotism and murder that has unmistakable echoes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s lonely crusade against Nazism during the second world war. Bonhoeffer was executed just before the end of the war; Ncube is running the same kind of risk. Like Bonhoeffer, Ncube is estranged not just from the ruling regime but from much of the Church that he serves, since its leading members have preferred to collaborate with the regime.

But none of us in Britain has the moral right to condemn the churchmen on the ground in Zimbabwe, any more than we have the right to condemn the Protestant pastors in wartime Germany who cheered on Hitler. We cannot imagine the perils they are under or the compromises they are forced to make; nor do we know the little acts of human goodness they still perform. This exemption cannot be made, however, for the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches in London. Our bishops do not live under daily threat of arrest, torture and mutilation. They are not followed by the secret police. But our churches, too, are mesmerised by Mugabe, and afraid to speak against him, as the shameful story of the archbishop’s visit to Britain last week demonstrates.

When the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust, the vigorous US-based group which fights for freedom and human rights in Zimbabwe, proposed that Pius Ncube should visit London, the news was greeted with dismay. The Catholic bishops did not show delight and gratification at the chance to give moral support to a fellow Christian in his lonely battle against terror. Incredibly, it seems that Ncube was asked to reconsider his plan. At the time of the Bishops’ Conference, during Low Week after Easter, the Catholic establishment looked set to block the Ncube visit. It is still unclear why Westminster Cathedral felt so uneasy about Ncube, though sources say that David Konstant, the Bishop of Leeds who has responsibility for international affairs, came under pressure from the Roman Catholic Church in Zimbabwe. There are also intriguing suggestions that No. 10 Downing Street, which has close links with Westminster Cathedral, was putting steady pressure on the Catholic Church to play down the event. Moves to block the visit altogether were stymied at a party given by the Bishops’ Conference on 29 April, when the shadow foreign secretary, Michael Ancram, a prominent Catholic, made it known that he would cause a public fuss if Ncube was stopped.

In the end, a deal of sorts was hammered out. Ncube would come to Britain, but a publicity ban would be put on the visit. The Zimbabwe Democracy Trust had been planning to make the most of its illustrious visitor, with interviews tentatively planned on Breakfast with Frost, Newsnight, Channel 4, etc. Some had even been formally booked. They were cancelled. In the end, the Catholic Church, rather than celebrating their remarkable guest, and sending the message of support back to Zimbabwe, hustled him through Britain as if he were an escaped convict. The British government treated him with equal distance. Attempts for a meeting with Tony Blair — normally ready to join forces with any transient pop-star or footballer — were rebuffed. This week Ncube travelled to Washington, where he has been granted a series of high-profile meetings with senior administration officials, including the secretary of state Colin Powell.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster and Primate of All England, has got off to a shaky start. But the Ncube episode will put a permanent stain on his term of office. He has just one comfort. His Church of England counterpart, Rowan Williams, has behaved just as shamefully by allowing the Anglican Bishop of Harare to rant unchecked on behalf of Robert Mugabe. The behaviour of both archbishops, and both churches, is incomprehensible. They are sanctifying evil.

Part of the Pope's message to the new Ambassador to the Vatican from Zimbabwe on May 17:

Making reference to your Government's land reform program, Your Excellency has remarked that this is a vehicle for improving the people's standard of living, achieving equity and establishing social justice. In many countries, such agrarian reform is necessary, as noted in the document "Towards a Better Distribution of Land" published in 1997 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, but it is also a complex and delicate process. In fact, as this same document points out, it is an error to think that any real benefit or success will come simply by expropriating large landholdings, dividing them into smaller production units and distributing them to others (cf. No. 45). There are first of all matters of justice to be considered, with due weight being given to the various claims of land ownership, the right to land use and the common good. Moreover, if land redistribution is to offer a practical and sustainable response to serious economic and social problems in a given country, the process must continue to develop over time and must ensure that the necessary infrastructures are in place. Finally, and no less important, "indispensable for the success of an agrarian reform is that it should be in full accord with national policies and those of international bodies" (ibid.).

Feelings of disenfranchisement or of being unjustly treated only serve to foment tension and discord. Justice must be made available to all if the injuries of the past are to be left behind and a brighter future built. Insofar as the authentic common good prevails, the fundamental causes of civil strife will disappear. The Catholic Church pledges her full support for all efforts to construct a culture of dialogue rather than confrontation, of reconciliation rather than conflict. This in fact is an integral part of her mission to advance the authentic good of all peoples and of the whole person.