CHURCHES in Zimbabwe were failing the communities they served by not speaking out against the wanton assault and rape of women and children, a Christian advocacy organisation that promotes the Church’s visibility and audibility on matters of government said.
Rather, churches can no longer remain reticent on sexual violence but must urgently increase their audibility on the matter.
Sexual violence is defined as any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.
The Bishop Ancelimo Magaya-led Zimbabwe Divine Destiny (ZDD), which works together with Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe and Ecumenical Church Leaders Forum under the Churches Convergence on Conflict & Peace (CCCP) programme, expressed dismay at the widespread lack of an ecumenical-based response to tackling sexual violence.
Addressing workshop delegates at AFM Kairos Assembly in Kuwadzana Extension Harare, ZDD Projects Officer Elder Shadrack Chaparadza said that time was up for the tight-lipped clerics.
“As Churches Convergence on Conflict & Peace, we deal with issues that cut across social, political and religious. In 2020, we don’t expect to have church leaders who hide behind pulpits and shy away from speaking out while children and women are being sexually violated. Churches have too often failed to realise their mandate to care and stand up for people on the margins, but we want to see a breed of ministers who the community can be proud of, not those that are followed by claims of rape or being complicit to such unacceptable conducts.
“The Church is the light of the word and it should show that by leading in censuring sexual violence. It shouldn’t hide from the world or the actual issues affecting the world. But how can a pastor speaks out against such abhorrent practices when his conduct points otherwise?” asked Elder Chaparadza.
From the various engagement during the workshop, it was submitted that in many cases the church has remained silent; and where it has spoken out, it has often led to increased stigma towards survivors. Others said the silence of the churches on this issue is often the result of fear and their inability to envisage how to engage effectively.
In that light, Elder Chaparadza said that it was for this reason that stakeholders and governments have failed to recognise the potential of the church to respond to this need.
As a way forward, the church was to understand the community it serves, therefore, to be able to inform workable responses and policy.
“We want a church that informs policy and development; a church that conscientise the society on matters of great importance or issues that may arise. Pastors must know and feel the pulse of their communities and flock. A pastor who knows if a husband is assaulting his wife; a pastor who knows if political activists are burning each other’s homes or if the children are being starved at home,” he said.
The Church, added the elder, was the only reliable social network within the community, thus in a case of church leaders not being able to engage effectively, they could invite experts to help from within their ecclesiastical establishments.
“If the Church doesn’t know how to deal with some these issues of sexual violence, it is its duty and responsibility to gather people together and invite experts and specialists from organs such as Child protection and social welfare. We want to create a culture where women and children, especially girls, can move freely without fear. It doesn’t matter what they are wearing; we need a church with a difference,” said he.
Among those attending the launch were Lois Dube, from Child Care Welfare. In an interview on the sidelines workshop, she told this writer that the Churches Convergence on Conflict & Peace workshop enlightened them to the pervasiveness of sexual violence in Kuwadzana. She said such unbridlness owed to the fact that there were many brothels, Shebeens and the high-density dwellings in the area.
“We discovered that children were being violated in different genres. It could be the relative that they stay with, people that they trust like teachers, pastors, parents or even friends.”
Dube added that there were now “abnormalities” in the community as spaces once presumed safe for children, like schools and churches, were being turned into hotspots of sexual exploitation and violence.
A ZANU PF member Ivy Moyo, popularly known as Gogo Mpofu, welcomed the CCCP program, saying it was creating a platform where parents could talk openly and constructively about sexual violence.
She said: “We are so happy about this program because it is eye-opening parents to the problems that have overwhelmed our community, and also our children. Be it sexual violence, drugs and early pregnancies, there is no running away now that we know the truth. What’s left is to figure out a way to solve these problems as a community.”
Gogo Mpofu also petitioned for reform of command at their local police base, saying the current ones were corrupted, complicit, or just reluctant to reinstate order.
Johnson Muposhi, president and founder of Prisoners Entrepreneurial Development Zimbabwe (PED), an organisation that empowers the prison population with employment, livelihoods and skills development for economic empowerment and peace, said they were excited to be working with churches to eradicate the epidemic of sexual violence.
“The problem of sexual violence is growing at alarming levels in this area, being contributed by lack of employment and other activities to do. As PEDZ, we are happy to be part of the CCCP in trying to encourage members of the community to embrace self-sustainable programmes,” he said.
Carried out across the country by church leaders, Churches Convergence on Conflict & Peace is a consortium of Church organizations striving to inculcate a culture of peace in Zimbabwe during and after the election period.
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