Amid political unrest, Zimbabwe churches lead dialogue

Striving to create an atmosphere of forgiveness and reconciliation following protests that rocked the country, Zimbabwe heads of Christian denominations gathered recently for a national prayer breakfast and dialogue.

The more than 600 attendees at the Harare International Conference Centre represented business, civic, political and religious groups.

Zimbabwe became deeply fragmented following the disputed election results of July 2018. Citizens, mainly in Harare, Bulawayo and Gweru, continue to issue allegations of abuse at the hands of the military. The situation remains volatile.

People also are feeling the pinch of fuel-price hikes and a failing economy. In response, the government is trying in the short term to provide fuel to bus companies to ferry workers at subsidized fares. More recently, teachers threatened to strike but are now in conversation with the government, while health workers have shifted to a three-day workweek after striking for 40 days over pay and working conditions.

Urging attendees at the Feb. 7 meeting to focus on solutions rather than blame, United Methodist Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa said, “Analyzing a problem and pointing fingers … will not make the problem go away. … We must begin to become a positive and optimistic people.”

Organizers set out to create a prayerful, trusting and collective environment for key national leadership to ease the current mistrust, share a national consensus-building process framework and set the pace and character of future dialogues.

“No one enters the process of forgiveness and comes out the same,” said the Rev. Kenneth Mtata, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches. “They get transformed.”

He said fear prevails “because no one knows what the other is thinking.” However, Mtata added, “That does not make forgiveness impossible.”

He noted that embracing one another like the Old Testament brothers Jacob and Esau means stepping out in faith and overcoming fears.

In attendance from the Zimbabwe African National Union — Patriotic Front was the minister of defense and war veteran Oppah Muchinguri, who represented the head of state, President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Nelson Chamisa, president of the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, also was present. For genuine dialogue to occur, he said, “we need an independent, credible, respectable mediator and convener. The church, in this case, is appropriate.”

Viewing the meeting as a blessing to the highly polarized nation, he said, “This is a very important platform. It’s God-sent … God’s provision.”

Muchinguri read a statement from Mnangagwa, which said in part, “Constant encounters of this nature enable dialogue between the church and all stakeholders. Such platforms under this anointing also help to unite us towards a common vision and a one shared destiny.”

Acknowledging that “politicians are the source of the agonies of our land,” Chamisa said he believes dialogue is possible and the national consensus-building process must not be impeded.

“The fundamental problem of our country is that we need healing, we need peace, we need unity, and for that to happen, we need President Mnangagwa and myself,” the opposition leader said.

 “It should not be difficult for me to meet with President Mnangagwa. Any minute longer is a life wasted and time wasted,” he said.

Bishow Parajuli, United Nations resident coordinator and head of the U.N. Country Team in Zimbabwe, said he is happy to see the consensus-building process work.

“Dialogue provides prospects for unity of purpose, just relationships and a prosperous nation,” he said.

In his statement, Mnangagwa urged participants “collectively (to) work together towards uniting Zimbabweans in peace, love and harmony.” He applauded the church in taking the lead and urged it to remain “the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”

Maforo is communicator for the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area.

News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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