number 5, december 9, 1998

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Help create fair world -- Mugabe

By Mitch Odero & ENI

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe made a passionate appeal to member churches of the World Council of Churches yesterday to help end what he termed as "a global conspiracy against poor nations".

In his address to the assembly, the President noted that the global order today belonged to the "strong" and the "heartless" in a world dominated "by bullies."

He went on to paint a bleak picture of the world as "a conservative world where rich nations tumble upon poor ones with disgusting impunity", adding that "we call it a global village in spite of the blatant inequalities of its villagers".

Calling for WCC’s support, he singled out the debt burden, the unequal terms of international trade accompanied with depressed commodity prices and, lately, speculative capital. These, he said, were among the major factors wrecking the economies of poor nations and requiring attention of the international community.

Available statistics place Africa’s total debt to creditors at US$227.2 billion or US$379 for every man, woman and child in Africa. Zimbabwe’s total debt stood at US$5005 million, reflecting a debt per person at US$447, according to the l996 Global Development Finance.

President Mugabe asked where was the conscience of the international community which allowed so much suffering in poor nations because of controllable factors. " Where are men and women of prophetic witness, our seers and our moral and spiritual liberators?" he asked.

He challenged WCC to "lead in calling the world back to sane and human goals that edify God’s image."

The President asked, "Is it not the time for churches to call for an end to the onerous debt burden? ... The council should use its moral authority to appeal to the powerful nations of the West to agree to write off debts of Third World nations," he added, amidst deafening applause from assembly participants.

Stressing the need for churches and governments to work together, he said that "the cause of humanity cannot be a cause for governments alone. It is our cause together. Spirituality always seems absent in our world, it always seems absent during peace negotiations and always absent among those involved in conflicts."

He went on to stress the role of the church in peace building, noting that "governments comprise temporary rulers who sometimes seek power for the sake of power, rulers want to rule but where is their moral foundation and spirituality, we (leaders) need moral guidance. Don’t (church leaders) neglect us."

He also paid a glowing tribute to the WCC for its "courageous gesture" in l969 when it threw its weight behind the struggle against colonialism in Zimbabwe. " It marked a great shift from the traditional acquiescence and even complicity which characterised the church-colonial state relations in almost all colonial settings."

He recalled that the council was criticised for its decision, which further included the establishment of its Program to Combat Racism. This involved creation of the Special Fund through which humanitarian financial aid went to civil rights organisations.

"Today when we look back, we say the WCC helped the local church re-examine its assumptions of social and political relations in the context of true Christian tenets," he noted.

Referring to the church’s role in the African colonial past he pointed out that "when the body of Christ came to Africa" it accepted "colonial ethos, with many of its missionaries who after all were settlers themselves, seeing the theocratic master-disciple relationship as a biblical equivalent and therefore justification for colonial racial hierarchy."

He noted that, despite that legacy, there were voices of dissent in the church, even though they were muffled, as early as the 1890s.

These spoke against the excesses of colonial rule. " Indeed they paid dearly for their conscience," he went on, recalling that a number of church leaders were either killed or deported for supporting the struggle for liberation in Zimbabwe.

On an issue which prompted protests at the assembly, President Mugabe noted that the unequal allocation of resources, particularly land inherited from the colonial past, had not been resolved to date.

The Harare government has yet to announce what compensation will be paid to the farmers, but is coming under international pressure, particularly from the British government and the International Monetary Fund, to make reasonable payments to all those affected.

President Mugabe assured the British government on a visit to London early this month that the land reform plans would be carried out with due respect for the law. Yesterday he told the more than 900 assembly dcelegates that British newspapers had accused him of "larceny, tyranny, brutality and racism" over the issue.

But, he added, "Who should really accuse who on this question of land? How possibly can the church stand as one in a society with such disparities? What sermon fits the landlord; what sermon is for the landless? Who between the two social types does the church and its priest choose and identify with?"

He blamed the country's problems on colonialism, and did not mention criticisms that Zimbabwe is virtually a one-party state with no effective opposition. Nor did he mention increasing unrest in the country over steep price rises and his government's recent ban on strikes by workers who claim they are not paid enough to support their families.

In his analysis of the "ambiguous" history of the churches in his country and across southern Africa, President Mugabe said that churches had played midwife to colonialism, "succumbing or voluntarily surrendering God to the racism of colonial structures".

"It [the church] followed where it should have led, and confused evangelisation with Westernisation," he told the assembly. In the early years of British colonisation of what was then known as Rhodesia, people had been massacred "so that the missionaries can go on with their work", President Mugabe said, quoting a church document from 1893.

The president mentioned church clergy who had vigorously supported colonialism and had predicted that majority rule would bring the end of civilisation in the country. But he also mentioned clergy, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, who had declared that racism and elitism were unchristian.

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Related documents and articles:

Mugabe's liberty bell cracked

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