Catholic Church offers to mediate Zimbabwe election dispute

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mike Hutchings, Reuters

By Bronwen Dachs

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) — The
church in Zimbabwe said it is prepared to mediate between government and
opposition leaders after six people were killed in violence that followed a
disputed presidential election.

“We have offered to mediate any
election disputes as well as broader concerns,” Father Frederick Chiromba,
secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference, told Catholic
News Service Aug. 6 in a telephone interview from Harare.

With their parish and other
structures, Zimbabwe’s churches would be well positioned to lead the activities
of the national peace and reconciliation process that began early this year, he

Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the
winner in voting July 30, but opposition leader Nelson Chamisa has disputed the
result and said he will challenge it in court.

Mnangagwa succeeded Robert Mugabe,
who had led Zimbabwe since its independence from Britain in 1980, after a
military takeover in November.

“We condemn the killing of the
demonstrators and all the ruthless force used” by the army and police, the
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe said after security
forces in the capital, Harare, shot at protesters who accused the government of

Noting that the use of live ammunition
to restrain unarmed civilians was “too extreme” and violated basic
rights, the commission also criticized the protesters for violence including
destruction of property.

It urged the security forces to
apologize, particularly to the bereaved families.

“Saying ‘sorry’ would open
doors for healing and rebuilding of good relationships between citizens and
their defense forces,” the commission said in an Aug. 2 statement signed
by commission chairman Bishop Rudolf Nyandoro of Gokwe.

Zimbabwe’s churches could mediate an
“all-sides confidential dialogue,” the commission said, noting that “an
inclusive, objective, internally constructed process” is needed to resolve the
electoral conflict.

The challenges Zimbabwe faces “are
much deeper than the elections,” Father Chiromba said. “There is
still a lack of trust between the people and government” at all levels and
the country’s churches have “a big role to play in restoring that trust,” he

“If we can manage to move
forward as one people,” much-needed development will follow, he said.

Most people in Zimbabwe, with a
population of nearly 16 million, survive on $1 a day. They eke out a living in
small-scale informal trade, mostly selling goods bought in South Africa.

“Investors were waiting for
these elections. Now that they are over, we hope that Zimbabwe will be admitted
into the community of nations, which will help in job creation,” Father
Chiromba said.

Mugabe’s policies are widely blamed
for the country’s economic decline over the last two decades.

“There is now a conscious,
sustained effort to restore the nation” and the economy “is in the
early stages of recovery,” Father Chiromba said.

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