Someone Has to Help Zimbabwe: Bishops Step Up

Denounce “Passive Genocide” and Enact Solidarity Initiatives

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PRETORIA, South Africa, JAN. 29, 2009 ( Faced with a situation they have dubbed “passive genocide” in Zimbabwe, members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference are offering aid from their own diocesan pockets.

The bishops named Feb. 15 “Zimbabwe Sunday,” to show solidarity with the people of that country. They are calling for prayers, and a collection of funds, food and clothing.
After listening to the Zimbabwe bishops describe the humanitarian situation in their country, prelates of Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland issued a call to their Catholic communities to aid their suffering neighbors in practical ways.

The prelates led the way by making donations from their own diocesan funds.

Archbishop Buti Tlhagale, president of the episcopal conference, asked the parishes and communities in the conference territory to “join their bishops in making a financial contribution so that food and medicine could be bought.”
He continued: “We cannot stand by without offering practical and immediate help. This is our Christian duty.
“I am sure that the solidarity that we feel for Zimbabwe will compel us to extraordinary generosity — lives are at stake.”

Deaf ears

This practical help comes after the bishops affirmed Monday in a statement that failure to halt President Robert Mugabe implies support for a “passive genocide.”

They affirmed, “We, the Catholic bishops of Southern Africa, call on Mugabe to step down immediately.” This statement came during the weeklong plenary assembly of the conference, which concluded Wednesday.

The bishops made a particular address to the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), who were meeting Monday in Pretoria for an emergency summit. The bishops urged the leaders to “stop all support for Mugabe.”

They continued: “SADC must stop […] giving credibility to the illegitimate Mugabe regime with immediate effect.

“Failing this, SADC leaders accept complicity in creating the conditions that have resulted in starvation, displacement, disease and death for ordinary Zimbabweans. This is nothing short of passive genocide.”

The statement was signed by Archbishop Tlhagale, who affirmed in an address to the episcopal plenary assembly that “President Mugabe […] has done his country incalculable harm.”

He added: “SADC too has failed to offer a strong leadership in the resolution of the Zimbabwean disaster — it is no longer just a crisis. We call for fresh elections without Mugabe.”

Humanitarian crisis

But the bishops’ call has had too little effect. The SADC concluded their emergency-summit Tuesday, giving Zimbabwe a deadline of Feb. 13 for the implementation of a unity government.

Mugabe endorsed the proposed deadline. But opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s group lamented that the African leaders had done nothing to resolve the same questions that have kept Zimbabwe from forming a unity government for months: questions like who is in charge of the police and what would Tsvangirai actually have power to do as prime minister.

Meanwhile, ordinary Zimbabweans are more and more pressed to just stay alive. The cholera epidemic in the country has taken 2,971 lives since August, and has infected 56,123 others, the U.N. World Health Organization reported Tuesday.

The astronomical economic inflation in the country — estimated at 2 billion percent a month — has crumbled the infrastructure, making healthcare and sanitation scarce.

And a full half of the population is dependent on international food aid just to get by.

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