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God must be deaf

After years of lethargic inactivity camouflaged as diplomacy, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Zimbabwe finally mustered up enough courage to publish a Pastoral letter on the Current Crisis in Zimbabwe. This letter, titled God Hears the Cry of the Oppressed was read at services in all catholic churches of the country on Holy Thursday, 5 April 2007.

Here are some excerpts of this, on the whole, truthful and logical analysis of the plight of this country and its causes:

1. Introduction

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, As your shepherds we have reflected on our situation and. In the light of the Word of God and Christian social teaching, have discerned what we now share with you, in the hope of offering guidance, light and hope in these difficult times.

2. The Crisis

The People of Zimbabwe are suffering. More and more people are getting angry, even from among those who had seemed to be doing reasonably well under the circumstances. The reasons for the anger are many, among them, bad governance and corruption. A tiny minority of the people have become very rich overnight, while the majority are languishing in poverty, creating a huge gap between the rich and the poor. Our country is in deep crisis. A crisis is an unstable situation of extreme danger and difficulty. Yet it can also be turned into a moment of grace and of a new beginning, if those responsible for the crisis repent, heed the cry of the people and foster a change of heart and mind especially during the imminent Easter Season, so our nation can rise to new life with the Risen Lord.

3. In Zimbabwe today, there are Christians on all sides of the conflict; and there are many Christians sitting on the fence. Active members of our Parish and Pastoral Councils are prominent officials at all levels of the ruling party. Equally committed office-bearers of the opposition parties actively support church activities in every parish and diocese. They all profess their loyalty to the same Church. They are all baptised, sit and pray and sing together in the same church, take part in the same celebration of the Eucharist and partake of the same Body and Blood of Christ. While the next day, outside the church, a few steps away, Christian State Agents, policemen and soldiers assault and beat peaceful, unarmed demonstrators and torture detainees. This is the unacceptable reality on the ground, which shows much disrespect for human life and falls far below the dignity both the perpetrator and the victim.

4. In our prayer and reflection during this Lent, we have tried to understand the reason why this is so. We have concluded that the crisis of our country is, in essence, a crisis of governance and a crisis of leadership apart from being a spiritual and moral crisis.

5. A crisis of Governance

The national health system has all but disintegrated as a result of prolonged industrial action by medical professionals, lack of drugs, essential equipment in disrepair and several other factors.

6. In the educational sector, high tuition fees and levies, the lack of teaching and learning resources and the absence of teachers have brought activities in many public schools and institutions of higher education to a standstill. The number of students forced to terminate their education is increasing every month. At the same time, government interference with the provision of education by private schools has created unnecessary tension and conflict.

7. Public services in Zimbabwe’s towns and cities have crumbled. Roads, street lighting, water and sewer reticulation are in a state of severe disrepair to the point of constituting an acute threat to public health and safety, while the collection of garbage has become to a practical standstill in many places. Unabated political interference with democratically elected Councils is one of the chief causes of this breakdown.

8. The erosion of the public transport system has negatively affected every aspect of our country’s economy and social life. Horrific accidents claim the lives of dozens of citizens each month.

9. Almost two years after the Operation Murambatsvina thousands of victims are still without a home. That inexcusable injustice has not been forgotten.

10. Following a radical land reform programme seven years ago, many people are today going to bed hungry and wake up to a day without work. Hundreds of companies were forced to close. Over 80 per cent of the people of Zimbabwe are without employment. Scores risk their lives week after week in search of in neighbouring countries.

11. Inflation has soared over 1,600 per cent (meanwhile 3,700 per cent) and continues to rise, daily. It is the highest in the world and has made the life of ordinary Zimbabweans unbearable, regardless of their political preferences. We are still concerned about the turnaround of our economy but this will remain a dream unless corruption is dealt with severely irrespective of a person’s political or social status or connections.

12. The list of justified grievances is long and could go on for many pages.

13. The suffering people of Zimbabwe are groaning in agony: ”Watchman, how much longer the night?” (Is 21:11)

14. A Crisis of Moral Leadership

The crisis of our country is, secondly, a crisis of leadership. The burden of that crisis is borne by all Zimbabweans, but especially the young, who grow up in search of role models. The youth are influenced and formed as much by what they see their elders doing as they hear and learn at school or from their peers.

15. If our young people see their leaders habitually engaging in acts and words which are hateful, disrespectful, racist, corrupt, lawless, unjust, greedy, dishonest and violent in order to cling to the privileges of power and wealth, it is highly likely that many of them will behave in exactly the same manner. The consequences of such overtly corrupt leadership as we are witnessing in Zimbabwe today will be with us for many years, perhaps decades, to come. Evil habits and attitudes take much longer to rehabilitate than to acquire. Being elected to a position of leadership should not be misconstrued as a licence to do as one pleases at the expense of the will and trust of the electorate.

16. A Spiritual and Moral Crisis

Our crisis is not only political and economic but first and foremost a spiritual and moral crisis. As the young independent nation struggles to find its common national spirit, the people of Zimbabwe are reacting against the “structures of sin” in our society. Pope John Paul II says that the “structures of sin” are “rooted in personal sin, and thus always linked to the concrete acts of individuals who introduce these structures, consolidate them and make them difficult to remove. And thus they grow stronger, spread, and become the source of other sins, and thus influence people’s behaviour.” The Holy Father stresses that in order to understand the reality that confronts us, we must “give a name to the roots of the evils which affect us.” This is what we have done in this Pastoral letter.

17. The Roots of the Crisis

The present crisis in our country has its roots deep in colonial society. Despite the rhetoric of a glorious socialist revolution brought about by the armed struggle, the colonial structures and institutions of pre-independent Zimbabwe continue to persist in our society. None of the unjust and repressive laws of the Rhodesian State have been repealed; in fact they have been reinforced by even more repressive legislation, the Public Order and Security Act, in particular. It almost appears as if someone sat down with the Declaration of Human Rights and deliberately scrubbed out each in turn.

18. But why was this done? Because soon after independence, the power and wealth of the tiny white Rhodesian elite was appropriated by an equally exclusive black elite, some of whom have governed the country for the past 27 years through political patronage. Black Zimbabweans today fight for the same basic rights they fought for during the liberation struggle. It is the same conflict between those who possess power and wealth in abundance, and those who do not; between those who are determined to maintain their privileges of power and wealth at any cost, even at the cost of bloodshed, and those who demand their democratic rights and a share in the fruits of independence; between those who continue to benefit from the present system of inequality and injustice, because it favours them and enables them to maintain an exceptionally high standard of living, and those who go to bed hungry at night and wake up in the morning to another day without work and without income; between those who only know the language of violence and intimidation, and those who feel they have nothing more to lose because their constitutional rights have been abrogated and their votes rigged. Many people in Zimbabwe are angry, and their anger is now erupting into open revolt in one township after another.

19. The confrontation in our country has now reached a flashpoint. As the suffering population becomes more insistent, generating more and more pressure through boycotts, strikes, demonstrations and uprisings, the State responds with ever harsher oppression through arrests, detentions, banning orders, beatings and torture. In our judgement, the situation is extremely volatile. In order to avoid further bloodshed and avert a mass uprising, the nation needs a new people driven Constitution that will guide a democratic leadership chosen in free and fair elections that will offer a chance for economic recovery under genuinely new policies.

20. Our Message of Hope: God is always on the Side of the Opressed….

The next 3 pages of the letter contain solace, hope and balm for the wounds, e.g. “The Lord has used the power of his arm, he has routed the arrogant of the heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and raised high the lowly. He has filled the starving with good things, sent the rich away empty” (Lk1:50-53).

The diabolic president of the country, a devout Christian, who went to school in a Jesuit convent, skipped the mass on the day the letter was read in the church, and waved aside the letter as “rubbish”.

When I remarked to an old priest that God does not seem to hear the cry of the oppressed (for that matter never has), and therefore, must be deaf, he chuckled and replied, “God needs a hearing aid, like father Gabriel”, another old priest.

We then wondered why God was punishing the population of this country in proxy, as he decided, during a wager with Satan, to punish Job (Hiob), apparently just for fun, out of vanity and without any logical reason. The old priest said, “ and he gave the devil so much power!”

A character in a novel by Iris Murdoch says, “…I hold no religious beliefs whatever. Roughly, I cannot imagine any omnipotent sentient being sufficiently cruel to create the world we inhabit.”

But most Africans in Zimbabwe are very god fearing and religous. Opium (of the masses) can alleviate pain.

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