Government and Catholic Church clash over criticism on human rights

17 August 2020 - 08:48 By Lenin Ndebele
The Zimbabwean government has hit back at recent criticism contained in a letter from Catholic bishops.
The Zimbabwean government has hit back at recent criticism contained in a letter from Catholic bishops.
Image: 123RF/Raw Pixel

The government of Zimbabwe has revived an age-old rivalry with the Catholic Church through an unrestrained attack, calling the church’s local leadership evil-minded, tribal and on a mission to lead the church “into the darkest dungeons”.

This was in response to the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference's (ZCBC) letter to congregants and all Zimbabweans expressing their displeasure about the deterioration in human rights and freedom of expression in the country.

The bishops said Zimbabwe should not make the same mistakes made from 1982 to 1987  after independence, when Zanu under late former president Robert Mugabe led a crackdown on Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu strongholds using the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade military unit.

“This comes [rights abuses] against the backdrop of unresolved past hurts, like Gukurahundi [massacres of Ndebele civilians], which continue to spawn more angry new generations,” the bishops said.

The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), in its report titled “Breaking the Silence” (1997), estimated that at least 20,000 people were killed.

For linking Gukurahundi with the recent crackdown on opposition and civic society activists, Archbishop Charles Ndlovu, leader of the ZCBC, was singled out by government as a leader of the “righteous Ndebele minority”, promoting a regime change agenda and “fanning the psychosis of tribal victimization”.

Gukurahundi documenter Zenzele Ndebele told TimesLIVE it was unfortunate the government has reduced Gukurahundi to a tribal matter.

“In government you have every tribe represented in cabinet, but then there’s a minister stocking tribalism. The government statement should worry the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC). Those commissioners should demand answers or step down,” he said.

The executive director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Osisa), Siphosami Malunga, said the government statement shows they are not willing to account for past wrongs.

“[Information minister] Monica Mutsvangwa’s tribalistic statement shows president Emmerson Mnangagwa and fellow architects are unrepentant about the Gukurahundi genocide,” he said.