ZIMBABWE: Church leaders hold back on government verdict

February 18, 2009

Southern African church leaders have yet to endorse the new power-sharing government in Zimbabwe where citizens are hoping for a revival of the country's inflation-ravaged economy, the reinstitution of the rule of law and the creation of an internationally-recognized administration.

"The Church takes this opportunity to congratulate the facilitator former South African president Thabo Mbeki, President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai ... and their team of negotiators for not giving up on dialogue and the search for a peaceful solution to our nation's crises," the Heads of Christian Denominations said in a statement on February 14.

The statement followed the swearing-in as prime minister on February 11 of Tsvangirai, whose Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won 2008 elections. It was followed by the appointment on February 13 of a cabinet made up of the country's three main political parties.

Before the ceremony, however, Zimbabwe security authorities under the control of Mugabe arrested the MDC's nominee as deputy agriculture minister, Roy Bennett, who was once a farmer whose property was seized. Authorities said Bennett would be charged with a terrorism plot.

"The unity government ceases to be effective as long as political and opposition activists remain detained and are still being arrested," the general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, Eddie Makue, was quoted as saying by Africa News in Johannesburg. "There is no way we can celebrate a unity deal when the political field is not level and one party has allocated itself more posts than the deal stated. We also call on the Zimbabwe government to immediately release activists that are detained."

Harare's renegade former Anglican bishop, Nolbert Kunonga, a strong supporter of Mugabe, hailed the formation of the new government, during a sermon at a ceremony at State House where Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister. "This is the work of God to make Zimbabweans speak with one voice and govern and control their own destiny," said Kunonga, who gained a farm near Harare in the seizure by Mugabe's Zanu-PF party of land once owned by commercial farmers.

"Zimbabweans today are being called to create a situation that is tolerable and acceptable to us all," said Kunonga. "The leaders have no choice but to make things work. It's time to bury the past and continue with what is progressive and beneficial to us all."

The MDC won the March 2008 parliamentary election and also won the first round of the presidential election but the government's electoral commission declared there should be a run-off election. Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off, citing lethal violence against his supporters. Mugabe went ahead in the election, which has not been internationally recognized. There have been many calls for the 85-year-old president, who had led Zimbabwe since 1980, to step down.

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