World Council of Churches Office of Communication|
150 route de Ferney, P.O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
Zimbabwe's churches prepare to monitor elections
cf. WCC Press Update, No. 13, of 19 May 2000
cf. WCC Press Update, No. 15, of 29 May 2000
Despite widespread unease and mutual suspicion in the run-up to Zimbabwe's general elections, scheduled for June 24-25, the general secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC ), Densen Mafinyani, is calling for dialogue, the right to hold political views and equal protection before the law.
Mafinyani hopes that the forthcoming elections, though already tainted with organisational irregularities, may nevertheless trigger long-term reforms. "We think it is important for elections to take place. For the first time in two years, the ruling party is facing a formidable challenge, although they control the media."
Like many church representatives in Zimbabwe - where white commercial farmers own almost 80 percent of the arable land and land is an explosive issue - Mafinyani urges implementation of a comprehensive land reform policy based on wide consultation with all concerned. According to ZCC, whoever owns land must recognize an obligation to the nation as a whole and must share and use the land properly.
President Mugabe's government is wary of church leaders and has not consulted them over the current political and economic situation. ZCC's involvement in the constitutional process has widened that rift. Undaunted, ZCC has maintained its position that wisdom must be sought from the Lord, and that justice and peace should prevail during the election period.
After appealing to citizens to exercise their voting rights, it is now, in consultation with other religious groups, including the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe and the Catholic Church, organizing a voter education programme, despite official hostility to such initiatives. Voter education materials have been prepared by a technical team that is training monitors and supervisors for the elections. A network of non-governmental organizations involved in election-monitoring, in which church organizations are collaborating, has also been set up.
At the ZCC's invitation, a World Council of Churches-led team paid a fact-finding visit to Zimbabwe from May 22-29. In response to requests from Zimbabwe's churches during that visit, the WCC and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) decided to assemble a team of 40 international ecumenical "peace observers", to arrive shortly before the elections and depart a few days after them.
The "peace observers" will take part in the overall monitoring programme organized by the ZCC. Their mandate goes beyond monitoring however. Rather, it is to affirm international solidarity with the struggle for peace with justice in Zimbabwe, assess whether Zimbabwe's electoral law allows for free and fair elections, affirm the upholding of international election standards, assess voter awareness, observe the electoral process and, finally, produce a report on the elections. More broadly still, it is to show that, without control over the violence, neither the elections nor the post-election period will be safe for citizens.
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, 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.