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Hope for haemorrhaging Zimbabwe


Morgan Tsvangirai'Loss of nationhood, the disintegration of our society ... the forming of degenerate militias': these were some of the stark warnings which the Catholic Bishops of Zimbabwe voiced in 2011 and which they repeat in their recent pastoral letter addressed to 'Zimbabweans in the diaspora'.

In this measured but powerful document, which is obviously also meant to be read by the government, the bishops speak about the 'decimation' of the Zimbabwean population through the haemorrhaging, not only of the professional classes, but also of less educated Zimbabweans who have fled and continue to flee the country in large numbers. This latter group they call the 'southern diaspora' (read 'South African').

'Decimation' is about right — at least one in ten has been lost. In South Africa that would mean 5 million people.

The concern underlying this prophetic assessment is that Zimbabwe's plight could get worse; it could become a failed state degenerating ever further into violent anarchy like Somalia or eastern Congo.

But the bishops' pastoral concern is to speak a word of encouragement and acknowledgement to the diaspora. 'We understand your plight. We know why you left. You are not to blame,' they tell Zimbabweans abroad. This will be a welcome message for a group which has suffered separation from hearth and homeland, plus bureaucratic indifference, harassment, exploitation and violent xenophobia, most notably in South Africa.

The letter documents one particularly appalling incident in which a group, having braved the Limpopo, were attacked by the gumaguma, the thugs that prey on them in South Africa. Five women were raped and two infants were torn off their mother's backs and thrown into the river to drown.

The commentary on this incident is a powerful indictment of the indifference of Zimbabwean politicians of all stripes. 'No national leaders came to console these mothers who were raped. There were no state funerals for their children. These human beings were not seen as national heroes; they are part of a nameless mass.'

The Bishops also ask whether any politicians have visited those members of the diaspora who huddle wretchedly in the border areas. They note that at election time diplomats and military abroad are able to cast their votes, but the diaspora is disenfranchised. 'The vast majority of those who leave are seen as politically insignificant and expendable. Their only 'merit' is the remittances sent home to prop up a severely depressed economy!'

What motivates this letter and why now? Repentance for past neglect comes through. The bishops confess: 'As Church leaders and as members of society, we acknowledge, with a sense of humility and shame, that so many of our citizens no longer felt welcomed at home, and had to take flight.'

They look to the future too, with anxiety and some hope. Clearly Zimbabwe cannot be rebuilt without the future aid of the diaspora. The bishops' appeal is realistic and uncensorious. 'While we wish you grace and blessing in your new land, we hope that one day you will consider coming home.'

There is also what is probably a final appeal to Robert Mugabe and his party to look to their legacy and the judgement of history as his era closes with his ebbing life. 'When the history of Zimbabwe is being written in a future, reconciled society, how will its authors look back and view the phenomenon of a displaced people?'

The bishops warn that the shameful phenomenon of the diaspora could become a central theme of that historical memory: it 'cannot be treated as a footnote to recent historical experience. It is an effect of the core failure within Zimbabwe to move beyond a narrow ideological mindset to a more inclusive view of life.'

With elections on the horizon, the bishops makes one more call for an inclusive political dispensation that ceases to apportion power exclusively to the hierarchy and stops excommunicating and exiling its political opponents.

But what pervades the text above all is a simple concern to assert that these people, who have been so brutally and contemptuously made to disappear from sight and mind, do still count.

'We wish to affirm that those in the diaspora are Godly human beings, made in his image and likeness. They are not a number or a statistic on some foreign shore. They are not a stateless people. They belong to the state of Zimbabwe. They are our concern. We embrace them as one of us. They must not be forgotten.'

For the international community, including Australia, which has received members of the Zimbabwean diaspora and recently hosted key Mugabe opponent Morgan Tsvangirai (pictured) in Canberra, it is devilishly difficult to find the most helpful stance to take with regard to the present regime. It is naive, however, to simply assume that things will come right once Mugabe has died.

The fact is that things could get worse once he is off the scene. The members of the junta behind Mugabe could turn out to be worse than him. These are ruthless characters some of whom would be good candidates for arraignment at The Hague and so have everything to lose by losing power.

What keeps them in funds and in power are the diamond fields at Marange in the Manicaland district. The international community has, unwisely, gradually been giving these fields access to the international market on the grounds that conditions on the fields have improved now that international companies have moved in.

I'm sure many Zimbabweans in the diaspora would still say, with a Zimbabwean I know in Johannesburg, that the diamonds of Marange are 'dirty diamonds'. They enable Mugabe and his henchmen to do their dirty work.

At the very least the international community should be saying licences to sell on the global diamond market could be rescinded in the event of a coup after Mugabe's death. The same threat should be made in the case of another round of violence at the upcoming constitutional referendum and the presidential elections in 2013.

Chris ChatterisFr Chris Chatteris is a Jesuit priest teaching theology and English at St Francis Xavier Seminary in Crawford, Cape Town. A version of this article was first published in the Cape Times

Topic tags: Chris Chatteris, Zimbabwe, South Africa, diaspora



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Existing comments

The role of the church and bishops in Zimbabwe is unimaginable from our safe haven of Australia - like comparing Venus and Mars. While bishops in Australia busy themselves keeping same-sex couples out of sacred marriages, bishops in Southern Africa are advocating against sickening violence and people being slaughtered like worthless animals. While we protect our white picket fence of homogeneity, we ignore the ungodly suffering of our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe.

AURELIUS | 31 July 2012  

The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe has for many years suffered the wrath of Robert Mugabe. The Bishop became his stooge and was sacked by the Church and replaced. The stooge bishop still has the support of the president and claims to own all the church buildings and the police guard them and don't allow the legitimate congregations to use them and they are forced to worship elsewhere.When Mugabe goes it will need all the wisdom of "Elders" to solve their problems. unfortunately many South Africans still treat him as a hero of the "Revolution". Let us hope that saner policies wil prevail.

john ozanne | 31 July 2012  

Oh for the days of the late, great Ian Smith - one of the most foresighted statesmen of modern times, who held out for as long as possible against the idiotic insistence of Britain on black majority rule, with its inevitable consequences. Not that the MSM will ever acknowledge that.

HH | 31 July 2012  

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