I traveled to South Africa from July 12-20 at the invitation of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa and the Council for World Missions. Church leaders throughout Southern Africa, Europe, North America and the Caribbean gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa from July 14-17, 2008 around the theme "Overcoming Fear by Faith: Churches in Solidarity with Zimbabwe". The four host organizations – the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, the South African Council of Churches and the Council on World Mission – called Christians together to discern ways in which one can demonstrate practical solidarity with sisters and brothers in Zimbabwe, working together in pursuit of justice, peace, security and fullness of life for all.
The summit included keynote addresses by two dynamic speakers and activists. Professor John Makumbe, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Zimbabwe, a human rights activist involved in the struggle for justice in Zimbabwe, presented the challenge through the use of a powerful video and powerpoint presentation detailing some of the atrocities suffered by the people of Zimbabwe under the current political regime. The Rev Professor Allan Boesak, a minister in the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, and who is probably best known for his participation in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, spoke on the subject of "What does the theme require of us?"
The Rev Dr Roderick Hewitt, a minister of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and Moderator of the Council for World Mission, gave the opening address as he reminded participants of Bob Marley's message during the inauguration of President Robert Mugabe in 1980 and the betrayal of that message of hope for so many Africans at home and in the Diaspora.
Daily Bible Study was led by Professor Tinyiko Maluleke, the Executive Director of Research at the University of South Africa. The study of the violent rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13:1-22 was used, in the words of Professor Maluleke, to show how "our countries, suburbs, townships, and villages are full of Tamars, teeming with Amnons, bursting at the seams with Jonadabs and crawling with Absaloms and Davids". The comparison to Zimbabwe was clear.
More than 70 participants saw tangible evidence of state sponsored violence and intimidation against the people of Zimbabwe before, during and after the March and June elections. The chilling stories were proof of the resilience and strength of the people of Zimbabwe. It was a humbling experience for those outside of Zimbabwe to be in the presence of such strength and courage realizing that the annual inflation rate (at the time of writing) stands at 2.2 million and where the purchasing power of the monthly salary of a high school teacher is limited to 3 small packets of milk.
Throughout the summit, we worked to ensure that we maintain an open ear and heart to the cries of the people and not the political division. We were very aware of the two political factions, but our concern was for the suffering people of Zimbabwe and our response as Christians to their fears and needs. On the last day of the summit, the group traveled to the office of President Thabo Mbeki, the African Union mediator between the two parties in Zimbabwe, to present him with the following statement:
STATEMENT OF THE ECUMENICAL SUMMIT ON ZIMBABWE
1. We have come together as followers of Jesus Christ from Southern Africa and from around the world, bound by our common faith and a shared concern for God¹s people in Zimbabwe. We are from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Madagascar, Namibia, Lesotho and Botswana. We are mainly from the reformed tradition particularly the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa and the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa but not exclusively so. We include representatives of national councils of churches in South Africa, Mozambique, Lesotho, Malawi, Botswana and Zambia, but also delegates from the World Council of Churches, the Fellowship of Councils of Churches in Southern Africa (FOCCISA) from the Council for World Mission, from the United Evangelical Mission and from Communauté d¹Eglises en mission (Cevaa) and from churches in Europe, North America and the Caribbean bodies with global constituencies. Together, we represent millions of people of faith around the world.
2. Our concern is rooted in Christian values: justice, love and compassion. We believe that all people are created in God¹s image and are therefore worthy of equal dignity and respect. We hear the cries of all suffering people as the cry of Christ from the cross.
3. For the past four days (14-17 July), we have participated in an Ecumenical Summit on Zimbabwe at Willow Park, Benoni, under the theme ³Overcoming Fear by Faith². Delegates from Zimbabwe spoke about the injustices that the people of Zimbabwe face on a daily basis. We have heard firsthand accounts of the pain of our brothers, sisters and children who have endured assault, torture and intimidation. With our own eyes, we have seen evidence of the brutality and death that has been inflicted by the Mugabe regime. We have learnt of people subjected to extreme destitution because of economic chaos; people who go to bed hungry, who do not have access to the basic necessities for a healthy and dignified life; people who have been forcibly removed or intimidated into false displays of political affiliation.
4. These examples of human tragedy have persuaded us to conclude that
- There is a profound crisis in Zimbabwe.
- Fear is endemic as a result of state-sponsored intimidation and political violence. Large numbers of people are being assaulted, abducted, tortured, displaced, maimed, and killed.
- The 27 June presidential ³run-off² poll lacked any legitimacy; therefore it cannot be a starting point for negotiations. Instead, the will of the people expressed on 29 March must be respected and honoured. Our assessment coincides with that of the Heads of Christian Denominations in Zimbabwe and the electoral observer missions from SADC, the African Union and the Pan-Africa Parliament who have acknowledged the illegitimacy of the 27 June poll.
- The political crisis in Zimbabwe and its humanitarian consequences represent a threat to the entire region that demands urgent and co-ordinated action.
5. Consequently we are called to respond to the people¹s cries by working for justice, peace and reconciliation in Zimbabwe. Already, a range of stakeholders, including some churches, has been working vigorously to address aspects of Zimbabwe¹s overlapping crises and, in particular, to find political solutions. There is a need to recognise and to highlight the good work being done and to involve more stakeholders in these efforts to achieve reconciliation.
6. At the same time we recognise that we can do more. We commit ourselves to:
- Pray for an end to illegitimate rule in Zimbabwe and for honesty and transparency in the mediation process led by President Mbeki;
- Provide palliative and moral support for the people of Zimbabwe;
- Extend hospitality to those who have been displaced; and
- Covenant to pursue this issue of justice, as we have with previous issues linked with other nations, until Zimbabwe has a legitimate government.
7. We commend those governments who refuse to accept the legitimacy of Mugabe¹s regime, but governments, too, can do more. We call upon the governments of SADC nations to:
- Refuse to recognise the illegitimate government of Robert Mugabe;
- Impose targeted economic sanctions against the regime;
- Broaden the mediation effort by the appointment of additional mediators from SADC and the African Union to the mediating team;
- Use their influence to work for a transitional administration and a truly negotiated settlement; and
- Ensure that displaced Zimbabweans in the region and other parts of the world are granted refugee status and are treated with respect and dignity.
8. We urge President Mbeki in his role as mediator to:
- Recognise the extreme urgency of the situation and expedite the
- mediation process;
- Use his influence to halt political violence and protect the security of all Zimbabweans;
- Be seen to listen to a wider range of voices, including churches and civil society organisations, in order to avoid outcomes that simply represent the narrow interests of politicians; and
- Refrain from taking any action or making any statement that might be perceived to compromise his impartiality.
We make this urgent plea in solidarity with our suffering sisters and brothers in Zimbabwe and in the conviction that we are able to overcome fear by faith.
Adopted, 17 July 2008
Please continue to pray for the people and be prepared to participate in follow up actions that will be communicated very soon.
Sandra R. Gourdet
Africa Office Executive
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ