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


WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 20

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe made a passionate appeal to member churches of the World Council of Churches Tuesday (8 December) to help to end what he termed "a global conspiracy against poor nations".

In his address to the Eighth Assembly of the WCC, meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, the President said that the global order today belonged to the strong and heartless, a world dominated "by bullies". He went on to paint a bleak picture of "a conservative world where rich nations tumble upon poor ones with disgusting impunity", adding: "We call it a global village in spite of the blatant inequalities of its villagers."

Calling for the WCC's support, he named the debt burden, unequal terms of international trade accompanied by depressed commodity prices, and lately speculative capital as among major factors wrecking economies of poor nations and which require the attention of the international community. Africa's total debt stood at US dollars 227.2 billion, 379 dollars for every man, woman and child in Africa. Zimbabwe's debt stood at US dollars 5,005 million, 447 dollars per person.

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

He challenged the WCC to "lead in calling the world back to sane and human goals that edify God's image". Amid applause from Assembly delegates, he 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."

President Mugabe said that the unequal allocation of resources, particularly land inherited from the colonial past, had not been resolved. "Zimbabwe still finds itself in a peculiar situation where a mere 4,000 white commercial farmers hold half of the arable land in this country, while about 11 million Africans are hurdled in the other half."

He pointed out that Zimbabwe had vast tracts of land owned by absentee landlords, some of them in the British House of Lords, and including South African companies with massive landholdings "which they possess by dint of colonial history". Yet he had been called names for seeking land reforms.

"How possibly can the Church stand as one in a society with such disparities?" he asked, adding: "What sermon fits the landlord, what sermon fits the landless? Who, between the two social types, does the Church and its priest choose and identify with?"

Stressing the need for churches and governments to work together, he added in a departure from his prepared speech: "The cause of humanity cannot be a cause for governments alone. It is our cause together. Spirituality always seems to be absent in our world, it always seems to be absent during peace negotiations and always absent among those involved in conflicts."

Still adding to his prepared remarks, he asked for the Church to guide secular powers: "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 need moral guidance. Don't neglect us."

President Mugabe paid tribute to the WCC for its "courageous gesture" in l969 by throwing 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 WCC earned the wrath of the missionaries for its decision, which included setting up its Programme to Combat Racism and extending humanitarian financial assistance 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 said.

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."

Most missionaries had come to Africa "with the encouragement of the empire builder, and Christian history of this country tells us that (Cecil) Rhodes and his British South African Company were favourably disposed towards early missionaries and even awarded them vast land hectarages and money for their stay, not for sound spiritual reasons but to use religion as opium to tame the indigenous population."

Nevertheless there were voices of dissent in the Church, though muffled. As early as the l890s they 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 killed or deported for supporting the struggle for liberation in Zimbabwe.

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

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 339, 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.