World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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3 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 3

Zimbabwe's Acting President, Mr Simon Vengesayi Muzenda, has challenged the World Council of Churches (WCC) to help his people to regain their ancestral land, which he said had been taken from its original owners by Christian colonists who had ignored God's message.

The WCC is celebrating its golden jubilee in Harare, Zimbabwe. Mr Muzenda reminded the Council at its opening session that "jubilee" has a special meaning in Leviticus, a book in the Bible's Old Testament. He told delegates that Leviticus spoke of the jubilee year as a time to release slaves and captives, and to restore ancestral land.

"All civilised cultures from time immemorial have had provision for those who have been dispossessed of their means of survival," he said. "Christianity is no exception, by virtue of the Mosaic law handed down through the Old Testament.

"Christians are bound by allegiance to God's laws. The penalty (in Leviticus) for transgression is failure of subsistence, failure of the society. The reward is peaceful prosperity and the welfare of all, including the foreigners and aliens.

"One of the burning issues in southern Africa currently is the maldistribution of land. On the one hand are those who, by accident of birth or good fortune, coupled with foresight, were granted the opportunity of occupying land which had no seeming owner. On the other hand, the Christians who came from the north with the mission of enlightening the heathens, rejected or ignored God's solemn warning."

Mr Muzenda said that, in Leviticus, God had said that when land is sold, the right of the original owner to buy it back must be recognised. If the original owner does not have enough money to do so, in the jubilee year it must be returned.

"All we're asking of the World Council of Churches is recognition of justice and biblical authority to restore the land taken from us in the years of colonisation." He asked for "the assistance of our brothers and sisters in Christ to restore our rightful possession of the land of our forefathers".

"The Bible itself has taught us that words without deeds are dead," he said. "For 50 years the World Council of Churches has been a shining example of matching its works with action."

Mr Muzenda was speaking at the Opening Plenary of the Eighth Assembly of the WCC, which has drawn 4,000 Christians to the campus of the University of Zimbabwe. He said that African countries, including Zimbabwe, were going through structural and economic adjustment programmes to rejuvenate and revitalise the economy. "These reforms have not been without their problems," Mr Muzenda said. "In many instances these reforms have resulted in the breakdown of services such as the health delivery system and education, exacerbated by high unemployment.

"At the same time, the general indebtedness of most developing countries has resulted in scarce national resources being diverted into debt servicing, rather than domestic development. We deeply appreciate the support that the World Council of Churches has given to Africa's call for debt cancellation."

Mr Muzenda called on the churches to help in the fight against Aids. "At this time, when the moral fabric of society is increasingly coming under strain, we look to the Church to be a reservoir and custodian of moral and spiritual values," he said. "We look to the Church to protect and promote the family.

"In these days, when the Aids pandemic is wreaking havoc in our society, both government and the Church should work together to intensify the effort in conscientising people about the dangers of the disease and in caring for the sick. The government cannot do it alone. We count on your continued support if we are to win the war against this deadly disease."

Mr Muzenda said there was conflict in many areas of Africa. "We count on the churches to strive for peace and reconciliation, bring the healing hand of Christ to our troubled nation and help create a new Africa," he said.

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +
E-Mail: WCC media

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 332, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.