SOUTHERN AFRICA: Forced removal of Mugabe could cause bloodshed, says church head

December 10, 2008

The president of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, Bishop Naison Shava, has told the once-every-five-years general assembly of the All Africa Conference of Churches that removing Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe by force would cause more bloodshed for ordinary citizens in his southern African country.

"When we say let's remove Mugabe from office, who will suffer most between him and the ordinary people? That was the mistake the world made when it removed Iraq's Saddam Hussein," said Shava, who heads the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe. "Zimbabweans have suffered a lot and we cannot afford to expose them to more suffering. Zimbabweans have died a lot and we can't afford even one more death," the bishop stated on December 10.

Shava was speaking at the December 7-12 assembly in Maputo for the ZCC, which has been accused by some church leaders as supporting Mugabe's Zanu-PF party. In March, Zanu-PF lost a parliamentary election to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party.

The leader of the Movement for Democratic Change party, Morgan Tsvangirai, beat Mugabe in the presidential race held at the same time, but did not get the necessary 50 percent plus one vote. Tsvangirai withdrew from a run-off election citing state-sponsored violence against people seen to be his supporters. Mugabe, who has not been recognized internationally, is refusing to budge from his position.

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches' president was responding to suggestions made by delegates on a way forward in the Zimbabwe crisis. Some delegates said that all diplomatic channels to resolve the catastrophe in that country have been exhausted, and that it is time the church joined forces with those agitating for the removal of Mugabe from office.

Shava, however, stated that the Church in Zimbabwe is polarized and fragmented, especially in speaking with one voice on the crisis.

Zimbabwe now has the world's highest inflation rate of more than 231 million percent. Tens of thousands of people are now threatened by cholera and millions face food shortages.

"I think the main task of the AACC on the question of Zimbabwe is to bring the church in the country together to have one voice, formulate a common approach and goal in terms of addressing the crisis," Shava said.

Attempts to set up a national unity government to include Mugabe and Tsvangirai, following an agreement brokered in September by then South African president Thabo Mbeki, are deadlocked.

One of the panelists at a special session during the AACC assembly, on Zimbabwe, Bishop Levee Kadenge, convener of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, a grouping of churches and rights groups, said, "The power sharing deal is almost dead because the party leadership in both the MDC and Zanu-PF are pressuring their presidents not to lose ministerial positions that they think would be theirs."

Mugabe has been reported to be seeking to prevent the MDC from having control of any ministries relating to state security.

During the debate at the AACC assembly, some delegates said the African church body should release a statement stating categorically that the Zimbabwe regime is illegitimate and one that calls on Mugabe to step down.

Others have suggested that Zimbabweans fleeing their country should be declared officially recognized refugees in countries where they arrive. A resolution on Zimbabwe by the AACC is being formulated and is expected to be presented to delegates before the close of the assembly on December 12.


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