SOUTHERN AFRICA: WCC head, Kobia, tells Mbeki churches can help in Zimbabwe

December 12, 2008

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, has offered support to former South African president Thabo Mbeki "in his very difficult task" of negotiating an end to the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Kobia and Mbeki shared a platform in Maputo on December 12, the final day of the once-every-five-years general assembly of the All Africa Conference of Churches.

The assembly the previous day had urged the Southern African Development Community regional grouping to "intensify pressure on President Mugabe to relinquish control of the Zimbabwean government and consider involving international bodies -- such as the International Criminal Court -- where appropriate."

In the Mozambican capital, however, Mbeki rejected calls for Mugabe to step down. "None of the Zimbabwean parties has made such a demand and we follow what Zimbabwean parties are thinking. And what we have decided is that it is important for them to work together and get together to form the inclusive government," Mbeki told reporters.

The former South African president, who left office in September, asserted the political issue is for the Zimbabweans themselves to solve and he said he is hopeful of a solution in the immediate future.

In his speech to the AACC assembly, however, Mbeki exhorted African churches to "mobilize the people to act as their own liberators" and to continue to support "African solutions to African problems." He reminded the assembly, "as an old liberation fighter" that "revolutions require revolutionaries."

WCC general secretary Kobia, departing from the text of his speech after Mbeki spoke, noted that some members of the week-long assembly had called for the removal of Mugabe as president of Zimbabwe. "This is not because we love Mugabe less," Kobia told Mbeki, "but because we love the suffering people of Zimbabwe more."

Kobia was speaking the day after South African Anglican Bishop Joe Seoka called for churches to pray on December 11 for the "forced removal" of Mugabe.

"Mugabe must be viewed as the 21st Century Hitler, a person seemingly without conscience or remorse, and a murderer," Seoka, the bishop of Pretoria, said in a statement in which he called for Mugabe to be put on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

In its December 11 resolution on Zimbabwe, the African church grouping said, "The AACC member churches confess that we have been slow to respond to the crisis in Zimbabwe and the suffering of the Zimbabwean people, in part because of our lack of unity."

WCC leader Kobia, in his December 12 speech, did not refer to this but said, "Peacemaking requires patience and perseverance. It must be a shared responsibility, and churches are well situated to help."

In his speech Kobia also said, "At the close of corrupt or abusive regimes, cries rise up for truth, justice and reconciliation. Even in the best of transitional periods, questions arise as older leaders pass from the scene and new leadership emerges."

He added, "I ask myself, what do the churches bring to this moment of change and challenge? … Do we not expect too much of the churches and their leadership? Is the task we are facing not too big and does it not weigh too heavily on the shoulders of those in positions of leadership in our churches?"