The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) has urged its members to mobilise support for justice, peace and human rights in Zimbabwe.
At its quarterly meeting on 27-28 February, the NEC was briefed about the ongoing harassment of trade unions in Zimbabwe, the systematic denial of workers' rights and the expulsion of a COSATU delegation sent to meet fellow trade unionists in January. Based on these reports - which described gross violations of the same basic freedoms for which many South Africans have fought - the NEC resolved to support COSATU's call for solidarity actions in support of ordinary people of Zimbabwe.
The NEC action builds on a resolution adopted by the Council's triennial National Conference in July 2004. This expressed "prayerful concern" for Zimbabwe's people and affirmed the SACC's support for the Zimbabwe Council of Churches' efforts to promote political dialogue.
However, the SACC's call for broad mobilisation of South African churches in response to recent events represents a significant departure from its earlier emphasis on pastoral accompaniment of Zimbabwe's churches.
The Council's Executive concluded that the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe is not likely to be resolved by the 31 March election, regardless of its outcome. Anticipating a prolonged crisis, the NEC called on churches to build awareness of the situation in Zimbabwe and to mobilise public opinion, especially against human rights abuses inflicted on Zimbabwe's people.
The Council encouraged its 26 member denominations to embark on actions of support and solidarity, which are to include:
- Offering special prayers for Zimbabwe in conjunction with the Lenten
season. Specifically, churches were asked to pray:
- During Holy Week (20-26 March) for peaceful elections in Zimbabwe;
- On Good Friday (25 March) for an end to the suffering of the people of
- On Easter Sunday (27 March) for hope for Zimbabwe's future - a theme
consistent with the Easter message of resurrection and new life.
- Working to ensure a peaceful, non-violent environment for elections by
participating in observer missions.
- Engaging in ongoing work to support peace and justice in the post-election
The NEC also counselled churches to reflect "theologically, not politically, on Zimbabwe's suffering and hope". It asked its members "not to engage in criticising the [South African] government, but rather to understand that they also have their role to play, along with other governments in the region."
As a result, the NEC resolution urged government to continue to talk to all parties and to do what it can diplomatically and multilaterally to ensure respect for human rights and promotion of democratic values in Zimbabwe. The Council will therefore seek further interaction with the Presidency to express its concerns and explain its position.
"We are not calling on the South African government to change its stance, nor are we asking the Zimbabwe Council of Churches to do anything differently," said the Rev. Dr. Molefe Tsele, General Secretary of the SACC. "But through our colleagues in COSATU, we have heard the cries of ordinary people and trade unionists in Zimbabwe, and we feel we must respond. Our role is always to stand with those who are suffering."
For more information: Dr. Molefe Tsele, 082 458 2037.
9 March 2005