DURBAN, South Africa, DEC. 4, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The African nation of Zimbabwe appears set on a collision course with disaster.
When Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, delivered the Archbishop Denis Hurley Lecture to a convocation of African clergy and laity last month in Durban, he asked urgently for help, seeking “to appeal to [Catholics] for prayers to ease our most serious situation in Zimbabwe, and … to lobby by all means possible for a peaceful solution to the Zimbabwean crisis.”
“We face an absolutely desperate situation in Zimbabwe, and the government is lying to the world about it,” he added.
Archbishop Ncube described how, after 19 years of rule by once Prime Minister and now President Robert Mugabe, “everything changed politically three years ago, [when] Mugabe wanted to impose a new constitution.”
“When the draft constitution was drawn up by the Mugabe supporters, the demands [of the people] were ignored, and the new proposals gave even greater powers to the president,” the archbishop added. “A referendum was held in February 2000 and the proposals were rejected. This was the first time the electorate had voted against Mugabe and his party. … The result enraged Mugabe, and almost immediately the violence began.”
The archbishop described how a government-instigated policy of land confiscation, conducted by “war veterans” and other Mugabe supporters and frequently associated with violence, has in the last two years decimated a thriving population of 4,500 farmers: “The first invasions took over about 1,500 farms, reducing production there to almost nothing. As time has passed, all except about 600 farms have been occupied.”
The archbishop said that “white commercial farmers had owned much of the productive land in the country” and acknowledged that “land reform was clearly needed.”
But he added that “the invasions were to serve as the jumping-off point for grave violence to be perpetrated in the rural areas by these war veterans and other party members in the run-up to the elections in 2000 and the presidential elections in 2002.”
As the Associated Press reports, the European Union imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe after the 2002 presidential election, when Mugabe refused to let European observers monitor disputed elections.
“Before the presidential elections,” Archbishop Ncube recalled, “the Gallup poll indicated that the incumbent would gain no more than 45% of the vote, and that the opposition candidate would receive 55%. In the event, those figures were reversed, but all observers testified to the irregularities; the violence, the control of the media, the intimidation, the stuffing of ballot boxes and the falsification of figures.”
The European Union has since protested that increasing human rights abuses over the past year were pushing the country into chaos, and cut off $128 million in development aid, as well as banning Mugabe and other senior officials from traveling to EU countries and freezing their assets in Europe.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Independent reports that few resettled farmers have yet undertaken “land preparation and planting, raising fears of another serious famine next year.”
“The government has been upbeat about the resettlement program, calling it a success of unparalleled proportions,” the newspaper reported. “But evidence on the ground suggests otherwise.”
Archbishop Ncube confirmed that “the land taken over by government in this redistribution process has remained largely unproductive for two years, and where small scale farmers have been resettled, no facilities were given them to allow them to start farming.”
“Ministers and other Mugabe cronies are expert liars, they continue to blame starvation on the drought when in reality, and everyone knows this, the food shortages are a result of the farm invasions and poor governance,” the archbishop said.
Almost half the Zimbabwean population of 11.3 million will need food aid by January, according to an AP report.
Archbishop Ncube recounted how “some families spend three or four days without real food, some eat roots and seeds from the bush. Family conflicts and divorce have increased because of the stress in urban families. Many children cannot afford to go to school and end up on the streets. People are insecure and fearful but prefer to remain silent than to criticize or complain about government.”
The archbishop called on Catholics to lead by example, and to pray for the conversion of President Mugabe and his supporters: “As Christians and as Church we are not called to go along with society; rather, we are called to preach the values of the Kingdom of God, namely love, holiness, humility, respect for others, and their property, peace, nonviolence; to feel for others, to be gentle, compassionate, understanding, to be sincere, to be truthful, to be human, to be integrated, to be whole. With hope in God and trust in the good people of the world, we know we will win.”