SOUTHERN AFRICA: Church has failed on Zimbabwe, say delegates at African assembly

December 9, 2008

Delegates at a once every-five-years-meeting of the All Africa Conference of Churches have said the church has failed the people of Zimbabwe and some participants have condemned Robert Mugabe for inflicting atrocities on his people and for failing to relinquish power.

The general secretary of the African church grouping, the Rev. Mvume Dandala, said the organization could only do what its member churches tell it in regard to Zimbabwe.

Delegates were responding to the general secretary's report presented to the AACC assembly by Dandala, a South African Methodist who is to relinquish his position at the end of 2008 after serving one five-year term. One delegate said that the church, just as politicians in Africa and southern Africa, in particular, has failed the people of Zimbabwe by not doing enough to force Mugabe from office and by not providing sufficient humanitarian aid to the people.

"It is a known fact that both the AU [African Union] and SADC [Southern Africa Development Congress] leadership have failed. And painfully, the church too has failed. In a way we have given the Mugabe regime a sense of power that no one can touch them," said the Rev. Jerry Pillay, from South Africa.

"However let me join the many voices here that as AACC, we should come up with a strong statement condemning what is happening in Zimbabwe now. In addition we should agree on how we can send humanitarian aid to suffering Zimbabweans," said Pillay, of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa.

Prior to the December 7-12 AACC gathering, the Alliance of Reformed Churches in Africa, of which Pillay is president, had called for an end to the suffering and violence being perpetrated on the people of Zimbabwe. It urged the AU and the SADC to put pressure on the Mugabe regime to respect the democratic will of the people in his country.

On December 9 some AACC delegates suggested that the church grouping should write to the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to intervene in the Zimbabwe crisis. Still they stopped short of calling for military intervention as reportedly hinted at by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu the previous week in a Dutch television interview.

Delegates said from the floor that the church has helped to bring peace in other African countries, including South Africa, and questioned why this seemed not to be the case in Zimbabwe.

Responding to the questions, Dandala said the AACC, in collaboration with the World Council of Churches, had been working on the Zimbabwe situation but he stated that their intervention was not effective partly because many of the churches in Zimbabwe did not want to work with them.

"When we first tried to intervene on the Zimbabwe situation, the church there did not want to cooperate with us because they said the way we looked at the problems in that country was different from the way the church there looked at them," said Dandala.

"People have made reference to ... South Africa during the apartheid era. But I would like to differ with them. In South Africa, the church cooperated with the global ecumenical movement in trying to end apartheid; but that is not the case with Zimbabwe. The church there did not want to cooperate with the international ecumenical movement and that is where the problem lay."

Dandala in 2007 at a German church gathering had said, "What is happening in Zimbabwe is an embarrassment even to us as Africans." On December 9 he told the African church delegates that it is up to the assembly to give the AACC secretariat policy guidelines on how to handle the Zimbabwe situation.

Presenting his report the previous day, Dandala dedicated only one paragraph to Zimbabwe. He said the situation in the southern African country was an indicator of a lack of independent instruments of governance that derive their confidence from citizens and that can act on their behalf in times of a national crisis.

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