Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 27, 2004
Zimbabwe dying under Mugabe
Archbishop risks death by speaking out against government atrocities, killings
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
The rains came to Zimbabwe this year, relief for a country only now recovering from a devastating drought a decade ago.
Yet most of the large, fertile tracts of land lay fallow following the government's refusal to provide timely seed and fertilizer to reap a harvest.
Converting the southern African nation of 13 million people from prosperous grain exporters to starving dependants of foreign aid is by design, says Archbishop Pius Ncube, archbishop of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city.
"Any serious threat to President Robert Mugabe's power and the army is called in to shoot people, like that," said Ncube, snapping his fingers. "It is very difficult in my country."
"I have repeatedly requested the president address starvation, inflation, the violence and to talk with opposition leaders for peace and a future for our children," he said. "Mugabe was very cordial serving me tea and cake. But there is no change. And now he wants to meet me to keep me quiet.
"I will only keep quiet when justice has been done to the people of Zimbabwe."
Ncube recently accepted an invitation by local Zimbabweans to come to Edmonton to help expose the atrocious conditions endured by the people since Mugabe came to power in 1980 with the transition from white to black rule.
Ncube has spent much of the last two years travelling throughout Europe, the United States and neighbouring African countries hoping they might pressure Mugabe to address human rights abuses in the country.
His efforts to raise awareness of the problems in Zimbabwe has not gone unnoticed by the international community, or by Mugabe.
Returning from a trip to England, Ncube was vilified in the government-controlled media as a satanic betrayer of Zimbabwe, inviting its former colonial power to invade. He has been branded as a homosexual and a rapist and has received death threats.
"The media has encouraged violence against me. I have almost been arrested twice by the police," he said.
"I pray and trust in God, but I can never say I am safe. There has been a lot that has happened because I am talking the truth against the evil things that are happening."
To be silent and do nothing is exactly what Mugabe wants, Ncube said. If no one is complaining or taking action, then the international community might perceive that all is well in Zimbabwe.
"I have to speak out. He wants the whole world to believe the pretense that his people are happy, and that is totally untrue."
Coming to power after years of military strife in the former Rhodesia, Mugabe was considered a social reformer and statesman. But when a constitution he drafted to give him more power was rejected in a referendum in 1999 and, with his largely disputed victory in a 2002 election, the "devout Catholic" has escalated his campaign for support.
It came as quite a shock to him and now he is forcing people to trade food for votes, Ncube said.
"We have only one-third of the food supplies we need this year and Mugabe refuses to accept foreign aid. He is saying we have enough supplies. He is deliberately starving people until they give him their support," he said.
"Zimbabwe has always had a strong person who has been critical of the former colonial government of Ian Smith and now the government of Robert Mugabe. The Catholic Commission of Justice and Peace has always been critical of the human rights abuses of those governments.
"And now we see that Mugabe is a megalomaniac, intolerant of any opposition. He is driving for a one-party state. He maintains a fa‡ade of a multi-party situation as a courtesy to international interests. But he is not one who allows opposition."
Five years ago, the labour-based Movement for Democratic Change party was formed. It was the first serious challenge Mugabe faced. He began to feel his power waning.
So what happened? MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was jailed for treason for allegedly plotting to "eliminate" Mugabe, charges which Ncube says are absolutely without merit.
"It is just an attempt to put fear into the opposition. Mugabe is trying to scare people to death. The spirit of the population of Zimbabwe is very depressed.
"How can we survive when the unemployment rate is 80 per cent? Inflation is up around 700 per cent. AIDS is killing 5,000 Zimbabweans every week.
"More than two million people have left for South Africa thinking their lives would improve. But they have no money, no food and no medicine. They sleep on the streets and they are arrested by the police. And Mugabe does nothing but make the people starve until they show support for his party."
The backbone of the Zimbabwean economy and its food security were the "white-owned" farms. Under the guise of giving the country back to its people, Mugabe forced the owners from their property. He then supplanted ownership with his friends, mostly bureaucrats with no understanding of farming. Some 300,000 workers lost their jobs as a result. And production has ground to a halt.
Ncube says this was done only because the owners and the workers supported the MDC.
"It is really sad because it was done without any plan other than to break the opposition, which was going to vote him out," he said. "At that time, he began taking youth into militia training camps to politicize them. There are now more than 50,000 of these trained youth who use force and intimidation. They go around Zimbabwe beating the opposition and destroying their property," he said.
"Teachers are chased from their schools and replaced with educators who support Mugabe. The judicial system is full of partisan old cronies. Our civil society has been destroyed."
Ncube was raised by a Protestant mother and a pagan father until he attended a Catholic school and became a Christian at 14. He attended minor seminar school in Gweru for four years, followed by seven years of training under the Jesuit fathers in Salisbury (now Harare). He was ordained a priest in 1973 and installed as archbishop in 1998.
He devoted his life to prayer, evangelization and to service.
"I believe the essence of my task as a bishop must be spent in prayer. Secondly, I must preach the good news. I must also serve the poor and the disadvantaged; those deprived of their human rights, as Jesus did."