Bravo Bishops!

The Zimbabwe Government launched a vicious – and outrageous – attack on the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) after they issued a strongly-worded pastoral statement condemning widespread corruption, the worsening political and economic situation, the growing poverty and the looting of COVID-19 funds amongst other human rights abuses.

The bishops said that “corruption is choking the economy and compromising our justice system”. They also accused President Emmerson Mnangagwa of trying to silence dissident voices which, in the end, “only make things worse”. The government, they said, has failed to listen to its people and rules by fear.

The Minister of Information, Monica Mutsvangwa, responded with a diatribe in which she labelled Archbishop Robert Ndlovu, the president of the ZCBC, “evil-minded” and “misguided”. She also accused the bishop of inciting ethnic violence of a “Rwanda-type genocide”. The government has now requested to meet with the Vatican’s representative to see if “such statements reflect the official attitude of the Holy See to Zimbabwe’s leadership”.

The Zimbabwe government’s attack should not worry the bishops. It is the age-old reaction of those who have been challenged, caught out or feel insecure. Not once has any government official responded to the pertinent issues the letter raises. They have only made personal attacks on the bishops.

The country’s Minister of Justice, Ziyambi Ziyambi, denies there is a crisis in Zimbabwe. He labelled it “all social media hype”. Last week the country’s inflation rate was running at over 800%. Anyone who has been to Zimbabwe in the last year knows that conditions in that country are dire. But, as is the emerging political tactic across the world, there is denial, dishonesty and a culture of impunity. We should no longer be fooled by shysters masquerading as leaders.

The ZCBC’s pastoral statement interrupted what many would say has been a long silence about the state of the country. They have begun to reclaim their prophetic voice in the national (and international) space.

Our faith tradition, right from the beginning of the scriptures, is full of people who had the courage to break the silence about those who have an interest in maintaining the status quo. Silence kills. Breaking the silence exposes pain and opens up new possibilities. The church is always in danger of being expected to support the establishment and ‘fly the flag’.

In the face of rampant corruption, the premeditated erosion of the common good and blatant dishonesty, the church would be unfaithful to her tradition if she did not break the silence. Jesus himself abruptly broke the silence and called the leaders of his own time to account. They too did not like it.

The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference recently issued a statement condemning the looting of COVID-19 funds in the country. They have also issued a statement supporting the ZCBC.

This is the leadership we need: one that is bold and courageous. Gently trying to cajole politicians who continually act with impunity and show they don’t give a damn is futile. The silence must be broken. Bravo to our bishops who have reclaimed the very best of our tradition: our prophetic voice. Be bold, be courageous, speak truth to power. Our future depends on exposing the rot that will eventually sink us all.

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church. @rpollittsj
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