The Zimbabwe Council of Churches and the Ethical Reconstruction of Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches and the Ethical Reconstruction of Zimbabwe

This is chapter 8 in the book The Zimbabwe Council of Churches and Development in Zimbabwe, edited by Ezra Chitando and published by Palgrave Macmillan of Springer Nature Switzerland AG.

This chapter is authored by Tarisayi A. Chimuka.

A PDF of the book may be found here. This chapter begins on page 109. References for this chapter can be found on page 121.

This chapter examines the activities, programmes or projects of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) aimed at promoting moral rectitude over the last half century. This has to be explored in the general context of church-state relations. The chapter also suggests new ethical directions in the promotion of the ethical life among ordinary citizenry of Zimbabwe. This shall be done through a prospective interpretation of ‘ethical reconstruction’. The chapter is premised on the idea that the church cannot stand aloof when society is faced with glaring socio-political challenges.

This chapter is an appraisal of the role of the church in general and of the ZCC in particular in ethical reconstruction. The argument to be advanced is that the church in general has played the role of ‘emergency responses to crises’; hence, some effort needs to be made to do Social Structural Construction (SSC). It is envisaged that such an approach will enable the ZCC to contribute towards national development.

The main focus of the chapter is not so much on the economic or political forms of reconstruction as on values. Many of the efforts aimed at renewal have dwelt on economic progress (Edigheji 2007), political success and/or technological development (Ogungbure 2011). Little attention has been put on Africa’s moral development in the face of all these challenges. This is where the ZCC and other faith-based organizations come in. They bring into the fray a salient dimension of reconstruction in the twin spheres of theology and ethics. In pursuance of this objective, the chapter is divided into three sections. The first shall examine the idea of ‘reconstruction’ in general and ‘ethical reconstruction’ in particular. The second shall assess the role played by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches in ethical reconstruction. The third and final section shall glean future possibilities for Africa’s well-being and moral tone.

Understanding Ethical Reconstruction in the African Context
The term ‘reconstruction’ has had many renderings. Historically, it has been associated with ‘economic development’ or development in general (Etzioni 2007: 27). However, Etzioni restricts ‘reconstruction’ to “restoration of the condition of the assets and infrastructure of an occupied nation or territory to the same or similar state in which they found before the outbreak of hostilities” (Ibid.: 27). An example is the reconstruction of America after the Civil War or reconstruction in Iraq after the Gulf War. In Africa today, the need for reconstruction cannot be over-emphasized as there are many issues requiring urgent attention. Reconstruction is required in light of the many civil wars in Angola, Mozambique, Rwanda, Nigeria or the Darfur region of Sudan (Mateos 2010: 25–27). Serious efforts are required to diffuse Africa’s many intra-state conflicts (Bujra 2002). There is also an urgent need to address political (Mamdani 2002) and electoral violence (Bekoe 2010; Motsamai 2010), sexual and gender-based violence (Chitando and Chirongoma 2013) and corruption (Pillay 2004). Even in those countries where there are no open hostilities and strife, a lot of vice is manifest. This too has to be resolved.

For much of the time, Africa was engaged in struggles for political and economic liberation. The preoccupation with matters of emancipation has spilled into the post-colonial period. African eyes stayed on freedom. From the 1990s there arose a movement, sparked by theologians, calling for reconstruction. They argued that the paradigm of liberation had run its course and needed to give way to reconstruction. The chief architect of this line of thought has been identified as Jesse Mugambi among others. As late as the 1990s, Mugambi had been arguing that Africa needed renewal in terms of her key values:

Reconstruction is the new priority for African nations in the 1990s. The churches and their theologians will need to respond to this new priority in relevant fashion, to facilitate this process of reconstruction. The process will require considerable efforts of reconciliation and confidence-building. It will also require reorientation and retraining. (Mugambi 1991: 36)

Mugambi maintains that the twenty-first century should be one of rebuilding and renovation. For Mugambi, this awakening in Africa is comparable to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Europe where the Renaissance and the Reformation took place. Villa-Vicencio (1992) also ropes in the idea of reconstruction. He adopts the idea of the Israelite post-exilic mode of life characterized by rebuilding to the situation in Africa. Vellem (2007) also gives a unique perspective into the understanding of reconstruction in black theology. For him, the concept reconstruction translates to umvuselelo in Zulu (Ibid.: 13). I suppose this would be synonymous to rumutsurudzo (reawakening) in Shona. Seasonal plants such as furi or mufandichimuka (resurrection bush) best depict the idea of reconstruction as they have unparalleled propensities for rejuvenation. These plants rejuvenate during spring but go scotch dry during the hot and dry season. Africa too, the imagery goes, like furi/mufandichimuka (resurrection bush), is undergoing renewal and rebirth. In short, Africa has commenced on a process of reconstruction. There is a need to confront oppressive economic and political structures in Africa as this is a sure way of reconstruction. Thus, in reconstruction theology, we see a lot of effort to promote the African renaissance. Africa has been depicted as simmering in crises of sorts. According to Chitando:

The continent has continued to languish under the label of “underdeveloped countries” that are euphemistically being (re)classified as “emerging economies”. Instead of emerging, most African economies are submerging under the deluge of globalization, mismanagement, corruption and a litany of other problems. Poverty, extreme human rights violations and civil unrest appear to have attained permanent resident status in Africa. (Chitando 2009: 133)

Arguably, reconstruction theorists have a different tenor in their approach to the subject. However, in all these various ways, there is a core belief that the churches can make a meaning contribution to the African future. This future is painted with bright colours! These are manifest in social, political and economic life. It is in light of the above that the activities of the ZCC in promoting positive social values will be assessed. The section below devotes some attention to this.

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches in Ethical Reconstruction Efforts
It is a mammoth task to assemble all church groupings in Zimbabwe. However, one can understand these churches through their affiliation to ecumenical agencies such as the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ) or the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC). Notwithstanding the problems of nomenclature, there is a sense in which one may construe the ZCC as a fellowship of Christian Churches and faith-based organizations that worship God through Jesus Christ based on the Holy Scriptures. Its founding goal since formation in 1964 has always been “bringing together churches and Christian organizations for joint action, witness and coordination, particularly to adopt a united common response to the political, socio-economic challenges”. From the aims alone, one can decipher that the ZCC is action-oriented, and by implication ethical, since all actions may in the end be judged as good or bad, right or wrong to the extent that these actions are evaluated as impacting on the vision of either the good life or the life of happiness. The membership list of the ZCC is quite extensive.

What has the assemblage of churches been doing in the last 50 years in the reconstruction of the country’s moral values? Admittedly, the Zimbabwean Church’s involvement in socio-political issues in this country has a considerably long history dating back to the liberation struggles. The church has voiced its concern over oppression of citizens by the Rhodesian government. This involvement is still pertinent in the present and it is hoped that it will continue in the future. However, in this chapter, the ZCC’s participation in ethical reconstruction needs to be placed under the spotlight.

Ethical reconstruction has been restricted to refer to the restoration of certain moral values that were probably lost due to certain social upheavals. Ethical reasoning has basically been divided into two broad groupings— those which promote the well-being of other people and those that weaken the well-being of others (Paul and Elder 2005: 4). Ordinarily, actions of the first category receive our praise but those of the second our criticism if not outright condemnation.

The ethical considerations in question are those of a global or structural nature. They are important to us because they affect the well-being and quality of life of citizens. These include issues of social justice, that is to say, the processes and distribution of social goods produced by society.

Are these production and distribution processes fair? Are social inequalities and deprivations in the said processes unavoidable? Whereas some theorists have underlined the goals of ethical reconstruction as the need to uphold the Christian twin ethical values of integrity and faithfulness (Kaulemu 2014), others have advocated for the complete elimination of corruption (Stuckelberger 2010). Even though the political arena has been constructed for politicians, some theorists see the need for the church’s role in ethical reconstruction. As a matter of fact, the churches are indeed involved in politics. Where violent conflicts would have erupted, the church needs to play a role in reconciliation (Bloomfield et al. 2003). From the foregoing definitions, it is evident that ethical reconstruction has a wide spectrum. The zone of values is quite loaded. As such, when ethical reconstruction is taken seriously, there is a need to ask whether Zimbabwe may be regarded as a ‘community of values’.

For the 50 years of its existence the ZCC has done a tremendous amount of work, all emanating from its key founding values. From its inception, the ZCC, in collaboration with other faith-based organizations, has been involved with advocacy work. The major goal was to make Zimbabwe habitable to all citizens. This idea was reiterated by the Heads of Denominations Declaration:

We, the Churches in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ) reaffirm our conviction that all human beings are born with God given inalienable rights. It is therefore the duty of every Government to ensure that conducive environments are created so that citizens are able to exercise these rights and in the process to attain their potential. The church has a mandatory call to be the voice of the voiceless, to offer pastoral services to the nation and be part of the reconstruction process.

The advocacy wok is quite wide, ranging from human rights to peace, from advocating for political participation to reconciliation, from democracy to economic development and so forth. The role of advocacy played by the ZCC is seen more conspicuously in the establishment of Justice for Peace Advocacy (JPA) in 1994. The main function of JPA was the training of the populace on civic issues. It also provided economic, political and legal assistance to less privileged citizens. The Justice for Peace Advocacy unit’s chief aim is to create total awareness among citizens on matters of human rights as well as encourage the populace to participate in civic affairs.

There were times, however, in between when the ZCC and the other churches were silent in the face of government intolerance to opposition parties. A case in point was the occurrence of politically motivated crimes between January and July of 2000 during the run-up to the parliamentary elections and the presidential elections of June 2002. The church was initially quiet in the wake of these acts of violence, perhaps due to fear or disunity. In this respect the church may be criticized for failing to promote its prophetic role (Zakeyo 2012: 8). What explains this silence? According to Zakeyo, the ZCC was paralysed by its own internal leadership squabbles and increasing isolation from partners both locally and internationally (Ibid.: 9). The net effect was that the ZCC had become incapacitated to the extent that by the 1990s it had to stop its promotional campaigns for democracy, constitutional reforms and economic justice. In 1998, the ZCC stopped supporting the National Constitution Assembly (NCA), an organization which had been formed and housed at its premises! So, when the wave of violence broke out in 2000, the ZCC was in no position to condemn it from a position of impartiality.

The ZCC picked itself up and led an international peace observation mission for the parliamentary elections in June 2000. Through its spokesperson/ General Secretary, Densen Mafinyane, the ZCC observed that the electoral process was conducted in a mature and peaceful manner. He also stressed that the conditions were conducive for a free and fair election (Ibid.: 10). In his words, Mafinyane said:

We were very impressed by the dignity and maturity displayed by our voters during the election days and we would want that spirit to prevail. In the meantime we are appealing once again to all political parties (party) leaders to urge their supporters to accept the election results. This was way after the violence had taken place and the damage had already been done; some citizens had been assaulted or crippled, and in other cases lives had been lost!

However, in 2005, the ZCC together with others took a stance against Operation Murambatsvina (Sweep clean all dirt). The organization decried the wanton destruction of property and the ill-treatment of the poor. It is in this context that the ZCC, the EFZ and the ZCBC joined forces to become Heads of Christian Denominations to promote a joint ecumenical front. Together in 2006, they produced the Zimbabwe We Want document which sought to spell out the national vision.

The ZCC, in conjunction with others, has also been very vocal against election as well as sexual and gender-based violence. These efforts have been premised on the understanding that the church cannot remain idle when situations are getting out of hand:

In both colonial and independent Zimbabwe, the churches have sought to avert violence and promote peace using various mechanisms of engaging with both the perpetrators and victims of violence. The three major church groupings of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) and the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC), as well as their partner organizations have denounced violence against a background of state leadership and media that have always felt that the clergy are playing a dangerous game that they should not indulge in. Church action and initiatives have to a large extent demonstrated the church’s courage to confront government on violence matters as well as confirmed that the mission of the church is not merely to preach the gospel, but to stand with ordinary people in their hour of need. (CCSF8 2012: 1)

It was in this context that the church, which includes the ZCC, mastered the courage to confront political leaders and the government, even when the latter felt offended by the move. Media houses were awash with stories about violence. The violence in question cut through the marrow of society into families and personal relationships. Regrettably, some of the members of the churches were involved; hence the ZCC and other faith-based organizations could not just fold their arms and watch. In 2011, for example, an arm of the War Veterans Association led by Jabulani Sibanda went about in Masvingo beating up people. In other instances, the media would report of the rowdy behaviour of the Mbare-based Chipangano shadowy group. In Bulawayo, there were media reports of intra-party violence at an Movement for Democratic Change Congress. In Mashonaland Central and other provinces, ‘political bases’ were established where torture was meted on people suspected of defecting to the opposition political parties. At these bases also, there were reports of human rights violations including the sexual abuse of young women (CCSF: 2). So, the ZCC and others had to intervene to try and quell the violent activities which threatened its members and the Zimbabwean society at large.

The ZCC worked tirelessly to attack rampant corruption in government. In a Pastoral Letter of March 23, 2006, the organization admonished the government to take responsibility and be accountable for all its decisions and actions. Part of the letter read:

The majority of our people now live in abject poverty, are unemployed and are severely threatened with hunger and diseases. God bestowed enough wealth in Zimbabwe to enable His people to live life in its fullness; hence we call on Zimbabweans who are the stewards of God’s wealth to avail it for all Zimbabweans. In instances where investigations have been done to establish the cause of our situation the results have pointed to bad governance, unjust laws, corruption, lack of integrity and the unfair distribution of resources as some of the root causes. (ZCC Pastoral Letter, March 23, 2006)

Speaking specifically against the vice, the Pastoral Letter observed that corruption thrived in an environment of religious and moral laxity. It also thrived where there was weak or no application of the rule of law and the offenders had the impression that they were safe and could easily get away. Yet, the impact of the scourge on the national economy was momentous (ZCC Pastoral Letter, 2006).

In the document “The Zimbabwe We Want” (HOCD 2006), the churches laid bare a vision of a better Zimbabwe. Beginning with a prognosis of the Zimbabwean crisis, the heads of Christian Churches noted that the government of the day lacked a vision of a better Zimbabwe and was blighted by oppressive laws, economic mismanagement, corruption as well as weak government policies (8–11). The church leaders thus advocated for respect of human rights, good governance, justice, promotion of the common goods among others (28). The leaders emphasized the need for recognition of certain core values necessary for national reconstruction. In this regard, they recognized the centrality of ethics in the reconstruction of Zimbabwe. As they put it:

Values are fundamental convictions and standards by which particular actions are judged as good or desirable and which therefore act as general guides to behaviour. Values help us to decide how we as Zimbabweans should live and what we should treasure. (17)

The values encapsulated in the documents include promoting the integrity of both individuals and the nation (17), toleration of difference (18), peace, respect for persons and their freedoms (19), good governance, justice and the rule of law (25). The church leaders implored political leaders to promote a national programme for development irrespective of political affiliation. As Chitando puts it:

The church leaders pleaded with the politicians to consider the welfare of ordinary men, women and children—and they maintained that there was more to unite the different political actors than to divide them. (Chitando 2011: 44)

Ethical Reconstruction, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches and the Future of Zimbabwe
The ZCC has for the last 50 years been working tremendously to build a Zimbabwean citizenry according to sound theological and moral principles. As attested already in the preceding sections of this chapter, the road to this end has been winding, bumpy and at times blocked. However, a conspicuous element in the capital of religion that the ZCC also taps into is resilience (Ter Haar and Ellis 2006: 351). The church in general and the ZCC in particular remained resolute in their demands for a better Zimbabwe. As a result, we ended up with a chequered of history church-state relations. Departing from the traditional paradigm of meek compliance, the church began to make serious moral demands on the government. In this respect, clashes were inevitable!

Since the ZCC has been channelling efforts to building a citizenry worthy of a Christian way of life, it would be prudent to shed light into the moral point of view that they aspire to achieve. Biblical ethics in general or Christian ethics in particular deals with the nature of goodness as prescribed by scripture and ends with God.

In so far as the ZCC was advocating for justice and the respect for human rights in an emerging democracy such as Zimbabwe, the organization was promulgating the good life in Christ. Jesus Christ once announced that he had come to give a more fulfilling life (John 10:10). Freedom is a fundamental Christian value, which the church in general and the ZCC in particular are promoting. Free individuals, worthy of respect and leading meaningful lives, make good and dependable Christians. Thus the state has a moral duty to make this happen. Assuming that Zimbabwe is willing to promote liberal democracy in the running of state affairs and notwithstanding the conflict between Christianity and liberalism, it follows that the efforts by the ZCC to foster liberal values in Zimbabwean society need to be commended. Historically and in a general sense, liberalism has meant recognizing the autonomy of individuals to pursue their life projects unhindered by excessive government controls (Siegel 2011: 7). Any genuine liberal democracy, as John Dewey would say, must respect the moral significance of active individual citizens (Dewey 1948: 181). It is when these free individuals interact practically that they develop a shared vision of life and find means of communicating this shared reality (Phillips et al. 2004: 635). In other words, citizens must to be free to participate in the affairs of the state in so far as their lives are impacted on by such affairs and to the extent that they find meaning in these affairs (Chimuka 2013: 65). Thus, the ZCC envisions a state of affairs where individuals are free to worship God and to lead full and meaningful lives.

Apart from the individual, the social environment needs to be conducive for the good life. In this regard the state and all social institutions must have moral foundations. Some theorists, notably the monists, identify just one value—say justice or virtue—to be the foundation of all morality, but others, the pluralists, allow for a plurality of values. We need not forget theorists who adopt the perspective of culturally specific moralities (Morton 2008: 6). The state as an institution or its subsidiary units is a moral entity in which citizens are supposed to lead meaningful lives. It too must be founded on sound moral principles and/or values. Inasmuch as the ZCC would be promoting the holding of fair elections, maintenance of the rule of law, the production of a people-driven constitution and clamouring for good governance and the putting to an end of state-sponsored violence, the organization would be calling on the state to be moral. The call for the state to be moral would be indicative of the church’s bid to make Zimbabwe an ethically constituted entity, where morals in general and Christian values in particular run through the fabric of the entire society.

However, in carrying out the duty of promoting morality in society there has always been the danger of division in the fraternity of the church. Some church groupings took radical steps in denouncing government failures, but others were very conciliatory and cajoling smoothly. In the end the church and indeed the ZCC could not stand as a united front against the government’s moral failings. There was also the constant threat of government repression. As Chitando has noted, disunity amongst the Christian denominations has meant the impossibility of speaking with one voice against government (2011: 46). Fear of victimization by the government also hampered the efforts of the ZCC to deliver. In such a scenario, would the ZCC be expected to be effective? Now, if the ZCC or the church gets intimidated and in turn abrogates its duty of moral censorship in society, who, then to use Juvenal’s phrase, “will guard the guardians”?

In light of the above challenges, the ZCC needs to step up the efforts to promote good and effective leaders in government (Chitando 2011: 46), the creation of a conducive social and political and environment (Zakeyo 2012: 14), the cessation of violence before and after elections and economic well-being of the citizens among others. The ZCC, and the church at large, needs to promote genuine reconciliation among Zimbabweans. The psychological scars of the war of liberation, the Matabeleland debacle and the periodic pre- and post-election violence are all episodes in the country’s history in which healing and restoration are urgently needed. One wonders whether the church in general and the ZCC in particular has the capacity to bring this about. This reminds me of “Mupandawana” (which literally means ‘one gives from what one gets, if one gets’). Mupandawana reminisces the idea that if the church in Zimbabwe, and the ZCC in particular, is in disarray and is itself in perpetual tension, there is no way it can bring about reconciliation and national healing (Chimuka 2008: 82). Yet, this is what Zimbabwe desperately needs at the moment. In addition, assuming that Zimbabwe has developed a common vision of the good life, the ZCC and the church at large will have to creatively design educational programmes for citizen education on matters to do with that selected social framework. If, as I suspect, the liberal democratic model is adopted for the running of state affairs, then the citizens need to imbibe and practise liberal democratic values. Ethical leadership will ensure that citizens have a clear course of action laid out for them.

Although the good life is envisioned differently, a moral framework based on the said governance model must be present, allowing people to develop towards their self-actualization and indeed the free worship of God. This responsibility is what the ZCC and the church at large must embrace as it trudges into the future. With a sound ethical foundation, Zimbabwe can develop without limit!