Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 21, 2007
Zimbabwe steps up persecution of the church
By BRONWEN DACHS
Catholic News Service
Cape Town, South Africa
The Zimbabwean government's antagonism toward the Catholic Church is shown in its refusal to renew the permits of foreign priests, said Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
"In a sign of the government becoming anti-Church," the archbishop said, two black South African priests were refused extensions of their permits to stay in Zimbabwe and had to return to their home country.
In a May 14 telephone interview, Ncube called Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's recent comments about him "very disturbing."
In the May edition of the London-based New African magazine, Mugabe, 83, singled out Ncube for condemnation and said he has "long been a lost bishop."
After an Easter pastoral letter in which Zimbabwe's bishops said the country was in "deep crisis" and "extreme danger" because of its "overtly corrupt" leadership, Mugabe warned the bishops that they are treading "a dangerous path" by criticizing the government.
Ordinary Zimbabweans have praised the letter and are grateful that the bishops have spoken up for them, Ncube said.
"But they continue to suffer," he told CNS, noting that food prices increased sevenfold May 1.
Zimbabwe is crippled by the highest rate of inflation in the world, unemployment of more than 80 per cent, and shortages of foreign currency and fuel.
Food shortages are acute, large numbers of people are migrating to the neighbouring countries of South Africa and Botswana, and, with elections scheduled for March 2008, political violence has intensified.
"The election will be rigged," Ncube said, noting that "all the electoral processes are in the hands of the government," with no independent electoral commission to monitor the poll.
"In a country with so many starving people, the government's use of food distribution as a way of forcing people to vote for them" will be increasingly effective, he said.
Ncube is among many people and organizations who have said past presidential and parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe were rigged.
After two people died when police violently broke up a March 11 prayer meeting that was banned by the government, Ncube urged Zimbabweans to continue their protests against government oppression and said he was willing to risk his life by leading them.
But almost all anti-government protests in Zimbabwe's cities stopped after Mugabe's security forces "picked up more than 600 activists" in the past two months, and those arrested "were beaten and tortured," the archbishop said.
In April, Mugabe's Zanu-PF party endorsed him as its candidate for president, which means that he could remain in office until 2013.
"We will see if they (Zanu-PF) are ready to talk" in regional efforts to resolve the country's crisis, Ncube said, noting that "up to now Mugabe has refused dialogue."
The Southern African Development Community appointed South African President Thabo Mbeki to act as mediator between Mugabe and the opposition.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's Jesuits called an April pastoral letter from the Anglican bishops of Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe "a regrettable setback, especially since it seems to rudely contradict" Zimbabwe's Catholic bishops.
The Anglican bishops' statement, which blames Western governments' sanctions against Zimbabwe for the poverty in the country, shows "how effective propaganda can be," they said.
"Relentless propaganda has been hammering this lie into our heads that the Western nations must be blamed for our misery.
"The truth is we must blame ourselves," the Jesuits said in a newsletter.