SOUTHERN AFRICA: Church leaders want new facilitator for Zimbabwe talks

January 21, 2009

A forum of South African church leaders has said former president Thabo Mbeki must step down as mediator of the process to solve the political crisis in Zimbabwe after years of failure.

"We respectfully call for the intervention of the African Union and the appointment of a new facilitator of the talks in Zimbabwe," said the National Church Leaders Consultation after a two-day meeting in Stellenbosch. "Zimbabwe has collapsed ... Former president Thabo Mbeki is compromised and no longer suitable for the mediation process."

The group of more than 30 church leaders included Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Dutch Reformed, Lutheran and Rhema officials. They met in Stellenbosch near Cape Town for two days and issued their statement on January 20.

Catholic Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, Bishop Ivan Abrahams of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Rhema Ministries Pastor Ray McCauley and Eddie Makue, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, were among those who endorsed the statement.

The church leaders said that the Southern African Development Community, which groups 15 nations in the region, and the South African government had failed the Zimbabwean people and Africa "through their so-called quiet diplomacy."

They added, "We believe that Robert Mugabe is holding on to illegitimate power. The people of Zimbabwe spoke on March 31, 2008 by electing a new leadership; we therefore call upon Mugabe to resign in order to give democracy a new chance."

The forum called on the churches, civil society groups and political leaders in southern Africa urgently to address the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, saying they would work towards the end of the Mugabe regime.

The church leaders said they would "seek and facilitate the unity of the church in Zimbabwe," assist in providing food aid through church structures and "actively work for the downfall of unjust rule in Zimbabwe."

The church leaders' call came after the failure of 12 hours of talks in Harare, when Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party failed to agree on the sharing of government ministries with Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change, which won the 2008 elections.

Separately, the forum expressed its "absolute horror at the appalling violence, destruction and killing inflicted on more than 1.5 million people in the Gaza strip and surrounding areas" in the recent war between Israel and Hamas. The leaders said, "We condemn in the strongest terms the senseless shelling of civilians, but especially the disproportionate retaliation which has reaped a grim harvest of death and inestimable damage to homes, property and infrastructure."

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