The Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) – an ecumenical union made up of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, Union for Development for Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference and Zimbabwe Council of Churches –have pleaded with President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his political foe MDC leader Nelson Chamisa to meet and dialogue for the good of the country.
In a concerted statement issued after the clerics’ meeting in the context of their current aim strengthening efforts towards an inclusive, comprehensive dialogue process as well as to respond to the current pressing issues held in Chinhoyi, ZHOCD acknowledged that calls for demonstration by the opposition party are a sign that all is not well and the political leadership in the country must take heed.
The statements reads:
The church leaders received various reports from various Church structures and commissions detailing growing hardships, as families contend with the daily struggles of providing basic needs. Church leaders raised concern regarding the effects of the painful austerity measures and the state of endemic corruption in public institutions as revealed by the recent audit reports. The Church leaders called for greater public investment in social protection mechanisms, improvement of delivery service delivery and an economic vision oriented towards job creation and growth.
The Church leaders also reflected on growing tensions and threats of violence following the call for mass demonstration on the 16th of August 2019 by the Movement for Democratic Change. The church leaders are deeply worried by the invocation in some quarters of the violence of August 2018 and January 2019 to sow fear and deepen political polarisation amongst our people. The Church would want to recognise both the citizens’ constitutional right to demonstrate peacefully as well as the state’s constitutional responsibility to maintain law and order within the confines of the law.
The fact that some Zimbabweans feel compelled to take to the streets to demonstrate to voice their concerns evinces the need for broad-based and comprehensive dialogue process towards the resolution of urgent and long-term challenges undermining unity, trust and patriotism.
To this end, Church leaders exhort his Excellency, President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the leader of the MDC, Advocate Nelson Chamisa to explore the possibility of accelerating much needed dialogue in this time of deepening national division and despair.
The Church leaders reiterated their call for an inclusive comprehensive national dialogue to help the people of Zimbabwe heal from past hurts, address urgently pressing national challenges and re-imagine a shared future of a united, just, peaceful and prosperous Zimbabwe.
ZHOCD’s call for a dialogue between President Mnangagwa and Mr Chamisa comes when the opposition is projecting to orchestrate what it has described as a “Free Zimbabwe” demonstration on Friday the 16th of August.
NewZimbabwe.com reported earlier this week that the MDC is planning to roll out the protests to other cities and towns in what is expected to be a national shutdown.
The planned demonstrations aim to pressure the President and his government to rectify the economic crisis in the country, characterised by a debilitating liquidity crunch, foreign currency shortages, rising inflation, spiralling basic commodity prices, erosion of disposable incomes, power outages and low productivity.
The MDC, which challenged the results of last year’s presidential elections, claiming they were rigged, has continued to poke holes at Mnangagwa’s legitimacy and has refused to engage him in dialogue unless he concedes defeat. Thus, insiders from the opposition party indicate that the Friday demo could be the start of a series of protests that party leader Nelson Chamisa hopes will push President Mnangagwa into a corner, and subsequently into agreeing to talks for a possible transition.
Sources privy to the goings-on show that planned demonstrations will spill to other towns as with reports the MDC has sent out coordinators to most urban centres across the country to prepare for the protests on the same day.
MDC has insisted on the demonstration with the party’s secretary for organising, Amos Chibaya appealing to all Zimbabweans to turn out for the “people’s Free Zimbabwe March.”
While the MDC has claimed the protests are against the deteriorating economic situation, President Mnangagwa has acknowledged the economic hardships gripping the country and has said his government was working to resolve all these problems.
The ZANU PF leader suggested that his austerity measures have set Zimbabwe on a growth trajectory adding this however will not be easy but better days are on the horizon.
“But darkest hour comes before dawn,” he said.
In what appeared to be a response to the opposition party’s demo plan, President Mnangagwa appealed for peace and non-violence while addressing hundreds of people who were gathered at the National Heroes Acres in Harare to pay tribute to the nation’s fallen heroes.
“These heroes and heroines at this shrine, and others at marked and unmarked graves, both in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana and Angola, gave their lives to uphold this peace, this unity, freedom, justice and independence. Let us honour them by dedicating ourselves to peace,” he said.
“Violence, discord, disunity, hatred, divisions, discrimination, tribalism, regionalism, and corruption, must be rejected,” he continued.
Meanwhile, Secretary-general of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) and Deputy Minister of Defence, Victor Matemadanda, has criticised the MDC’s planned demonstrations and vowed to stop them. He accused the MDC of violence, and disrespecting the country’s heroes and war veterans, by not taking party in the Heroes Day festivities, though they were invited.
Reverberating similar sentiment, Lewis Matutu, secretary of the Zanu-PF Youth League said they would block the planned demonstrations so as to avoid violence.
“We saw what they did in the last demonstration – looting shops and stealing people’s things, breaking things, so we can’t allow them to do that again,” said Matutu, adding that they are not concerned that the demonstrations are sanctioned by the police.
“It doesn’t matter what the police have said, because we are not the police. That is for the government and security sector to worry about. Our interest is to make sure that the power we have as Zanu-PF is protected,” said Matutu.
Deputy Information Minister Energy Mutodi, using his Twitter handle, also warned citizens against heeding a call by the opposition to take to the streets on Friday, indicating it is likely to lead to loss of lives.
The key ally of the president said the planned August 16 demonstration that the MDC led by Nelson Chamisa argues is aimed at forcing Mnangagwa to the negotiating table to begin political reforms will be met by “a firm hand.”
“MDC planned demo has bn condemned by South African leaders & the whole SADC. Any sensible Zimbabwean will not risk their life taking part in such a futile event. President Mnangagwa is building the country step by step & any attempt to disturb him will be met with a firm hand (sic)” he wrote.
However, MDC spokesperson Daniel Molokele dismissed Matemadanda and Matutu’s threats to disrupt the demonstrations, promising that they will continue as planned because the constitution gives them that right.
“As the MDC party, we are following the Constitution – Section 59 – which says that every Zimbabwean citizen has a right to demonstrate and hold peaceful petitions. That is what we will do on Friday. We are going ahead with our plans to hold a demonstration in Harare, on Friday,” said Molokele, adding that Zanu-PF was free to hold its own demonstrations under the same constitutional protections.
Six people were gunned down by the army on August 1st last year after protests broke out over delays in the release of presidential elections results.
In January this year, violence broke out across the country after the government announced a 150% fuel price hike.
Zimbabwean author and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga pleaded with the masses to pray and meditate for self-restraint before, during and after the protests.
“Dear people of Zimbabwe, inflammatory actions, eg abducting people said to be organisers of Aug 16 demo have begun. It is to make you angry so you cannot control yourselves at the demo. Pray & meditate for self restraint. Walk peacefully, put doers & inciters of violence to shame,” she wrote.
By the time of this publishing, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights have claimed that human rights defender, Tatenda Mombeyarara and MDC Youth Chairperson for Mufakose Blessing Kanotunga have been severely beaten, tortured and then dumped by armed men.
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