Churches seek new deal to ease Zimbabwe crisis
Leaders want polls postponed for period of national healing
Church leaders have urged Zimbabweans to indefinitely postpone elections and put all political rivalry on ice to allow for a national dialogue and healing process.
The Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHCD), which groups the evangelical, Catholic and Apostolic churches and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, says the country missed an opportunity for rebirth after the November 2017 coup that ousted former president Robert Mugabe.
Instead, ZHCD leaders say, Zimbabwe has been plunged into economic meltdown, accompanied by disregard for democracy and human rights and too great a role for the military in politics.
"Church leaders are disheartened as they witness the heavy toll of ongoing fuel shortages, price hikes, heavy taxation and the currency crisis," said ZHCD general secretary Kenneth Mtata.
Meeting in Bulawayo on Wednesday and Thursday, the church leaders crafted a proposal for a "national transitional authority" made up of politicians, industrialists, the clergy and human rights activists. This body would take charge until the country was on the path to recovery.
Analysts said the proposal, which the ZHCD hopes to submit to President Emmerson Mnangagwa this week, was likely to find favour with civil society organisations but not with Mnangagwa's ruling Zanu-PF.
"A neutral governing authority that has the trust of all stakeholders can help unlock this deadlock," said SA-based political analyst Ricky Mukonza.
"However, this is unlikely [to happen] as Zanu-PF and the military power behind it are unlikely to cede power. They are living a privileged, elite life and would not want to exchange that for anything."
Some church leaders at the Bulawayo meeting declared their misgivings about Mnangagwa's national dialogue, which includes small parties and individuals but not the opposition MDC Alliance.
They hinted they had made informal overtures to Zanu-PF and the MDC Alliance about a national transitional authority. Because these had been rejected by Zanu-PF, they decided to try to sell the idea directly to the broader population.
"We are calling the nation for a sabbath season of rest from all forms of polarising political activities and contestation, finger-pointing and violent conflict," said Mtata.
"This is vital to build trust and confidence in the national dialogue process and to ensure ownership of its outcomes."
MDC Alliance spokesperson Jacob Mafume said the churches' proposal resonated with the party's thinking.
"We have already suggested that we need a transitional authority to deepen democracy and economic reforms, to deal with state capture, to deal with issues around security sector reforms," he said.
Mafume said a key problem was the electoral process. "We are not having elections in Zimbabwe but a 'selectorate'. Results of elections are predetermined; who runs the country is predetermined," he said.
"Unfortunately, those selected can't deal with the economy, they can't deal with the societal decay and general corruption. It is important that the churches have raised and suggested this. It is the way to go and progressive. It is needed sooner rather than later."
The MDC Alliance accuses Zanu-PF of having rigged the elections last year. The next national poll is due in 2023.
The Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu) said the church leaders' initiative was commendable but dangerous.
"The call for dialogue and healing … without addressing that which polarised and wounded our society is not only misplaced but also mischievous," said Zapu spokesperson Iphithule Maphosa.
"There are fundamental issues of justice and rehabilitation that the church should be seized with.
"What polarised us is mainly human rights violations by the government, disregard of the constitution, capture of state institutions, tribalism and corrupt conduct by the government. Those issues must be the churches first port of call .
"We commend them for their willingness to see the country move forward but we aren't in agreement with their formula."
Zanu-PF maintains Mnangagwa's 2018 victory was legitimate and has been endorsed by the Constitutional Court. The party wants MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa to recognise Mnangagwa as duly elected president before any talks go ahead.