number 5, december 9, 1998

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Mugabe's liberty bell cracked

By Rod Booth

President Comrade Robert Mugabe’s words to the 8th assembly delegates, would have rung bells for many in his audience -- particularly those with direct experience of the dark underside of the colonial era.

But, to me, there were cracks in his liberty bell. It sounded some notes that have for too long been allowed to ring forth unchallenged.

I grew up in the home of missionary parents. My father was for some years the Bible Society secretary here in Zimbabwe, during which time there was hardly a mission station he didn’t visit.

I know there existed some missionaries who were a chip off the ‘old imperialist block’, the kind so easily stereotyped by both the president in his remarks and my colleague Joseph Ngugi in his drama for the Africa plenary.

But I never met one of those missionaries. All the people who were in and out of our home were deeply caring, compassionate people, striving to be sensitive to the people and culture amongst whom they felt called to work and witness.

Bishop John Habgood once observed that the problem of the WCC is that it wants always to move from apocalypse to utopia without facing the hard work of getting from the one to the other.

There certainly is a land problem in this country, and it would be nice to be able to blame everything on a handful of greedy white farmers. But many of them are people who by their sweat and energy have helped to create the wealth of this land.

Nor did the president mention the fact that a significant number of the large land holdings in Zimbabwe are those of his own family and Cabinet colleagues.

Not all the problems of this land were brought by the colonisers. The long history of relationship between the Ndbele and Shona is not a simple utopian tale.

There was precious little love lost between the forces of ZANU and ZAPU during the struggle for liberation, despite the deceptive mutual designation of each other as "comrades". And some would say that in this regard, nothing has changed.

In a Monday night Padare seminar on reconciliation and peace-making, reference was made to the propensity of nations to chose their defining trauma and thereafter define all reality in light of that drama. We also heard of the deep human propensity to absolve ourselves of sin by referring guilt always to the other.

In a world where increasingly we are all both victims and perpetrators, do we not need to be careful which bells we ring -- and how hard we strike them?

Rod Booth is director of media resources for the United Church of Canada. He produces weekly network TV for UCCanada and has been a regular columnist for Canadian church press. This is his fourth WCC assembly.

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Related documents and articles:

Help create fair world -- Mugabe

Read other articles in this issue:

Help create fair world -- Mugabe
Evangelicals liken WCC to a polygamist husband
They work for peace in cities
Churches should defend the voiceless
Received by the President
Human chain to cancel debt
Indian delegates retrace footsteps of St Thomas
Making peace possible
Mugabe's liberty bell cracked

8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary

copyright 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to webeditor