Something is Very Wrong in Zimbabwe, The Crisis is Deepening, Church and Civic Leaders Must Speak up Against the use of State Sponsored Violence

In war, the end justifies almost any means.” for President Mnangagwa, politics is war. Thus, for him as a politician he felt justified in hiding his intention to use violence and intimidation while running for office, and likewise justified in reversing his position on none violence and working “under the radar” to use violence and intimidation as a tool once in office.

For those who have paid attention, President Mnangagwa has a knack for saying one thing and doing another altogether: a knack for claiming one position while actually occupying another. We first saw this when he was campaigning for president in 2018, President Mnangagwa promised peace and more peace, he promised to break from Mugabe-ism. Does anyone remember his ‘no to violence’ this is the new dispensation, mantra?

At the time, he claimed to mutually support a none violent approach to politically motivated violence which has characterised Zimbabwean politics. He also promised to deal with corruption. (We will stop corruption and will bring all those who have been externalising funds to book and Zimbabwe will be open for business, we were told). Fast forward to the present day we have soldiers brutalising citizens on the streets, raping women and the police arresting kids.

The lawyers chose to speak up

The church may have chosen to look away but the lawyers in Zimbabwe chose to come out, speak up and act. Hundreds of lawyers dressed in their black gowns marched in Harare’s city centre to the Constitutional Court yesterday (Tuesday 29/01/19) calling for the immediate restoration of the rule of law and order in Zimbabwe.

The march was organised by the Law Society of Zimbabwe, the largest body of legal practitioners across the country.

The lawyers said they had noted a worrying trend across the sections of the judiciary, where their clients were being denied bail and there was a surge in the fast-tracking of trials.

The lawyers believe that the fast-tracking, routine denial of bail, routine dismissal of applications, and blatant disregard of the constitutional provisions relating to the right to fair trial were “causing alarm in the profession”. They also bemoaned the militarisation of the judiciary.

Who is in charge of this militarisation?

Something is really wrong in Zimbabwe; the crisis is deepening. Who really is in charge here? There is speculation that a divide is growing between Mnangagwa and his vice president, coup mastermind and former commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Constantino Chiwenga.

The military has long played a central role in the country’s politics and economy, and Mnangagwa, as a former defense minister and former state security minister, relied on the armed forces to oust Mugabe in November 2017. It has proved difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.

Under President Mnangagwa, the military has been on the ascendency, with Chiwenga and former generals securing key cabinet posts.

Although the claim is that we are in the so-called ‘new dispensation’ the ongoing crackdown is straight out of the Mugabe playbook. This has led to some observers claiming that the military is being deployed without the President Mnangagwa’s consent. Some even claiming the recent internet shutdown was not ordered by President Mnangagwa.

There are swirling rumours in Zimbabwe that Chiwenga is the power behind the throne and is either ignoring or overruling President Mnangagwa’s orders.

Good cop bad cop who is fooling who?

Another interesting observation by some observers suggests that the president and his deputy are engaged in a good-cop, bad-cop routine aimed at both stifling dissent while simultaneously positing to the international community that Mnangagwa is indeed the reformer he claims to be. Chiwenga and other senior military figures certainly wield significant influence. But given Mnangagwa’s long ties to the security establishment, it is unlikely that he has lost complete control. Either way, as commander in chief, Mnangagwa is accountable for the actions of his military, and stakeholders everywhere should hold him to it.

We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. Indeed, the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.

Therefore, we must as a nation reject the resurgence of violence and intimidation in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership. We, as citizens must clearly reject the use of violence and intimidation and corruption for political gain that we have seen. In the face of such violence as we have witnessed, the church and civil society must speak out and bring the government to book. Silence is complicity. In particular, the church and civic organisations must reject violence and intimidation and commit themselves to help dismantle the systems and structures that perpetuate the use of violence, its preference and advantage. Further, any doctrines or political strategies that use politically violent resentments, fears, or language must be named as public sin—one that goes back to the foundation of our nation and lingers on. This must be condemned without fear.

We are Christians by and large

Political violence must be antithetical for those belonging to the body of Christ, because it denies the truth of the gospel we profess. After all Zimbabwe is by and large a Christian nation.

It is thusly, incumbent upon us as Zimbabwean Christians to deplore state sponsored violence and the use of the military to intimidate citizens, the assault of women that has been further revealed in our culture and politics, including our churches, and the oppression of any other child of God.  It is lamentable when such practices seem publicly ignored, and thus privately condoned, by those in high positions of leadership. We must stand for the respect, protection, and affirmation of all citizens and communities. We must support the courageous truth-telling voices of citizens, who have helped the nation recognize these abuses.

About that Sky News report

The Sky News report that exposed the brutality of the military showed that there is confusion in our government. While the Herald newspaper claimed the footage was old, President Mnangagwa reacted to the report by calling for the arrest of the security agents filmed beating up a cuffed citizen. Either the centre is not holding or we have a president who is indicating left and turning right. What really is going on in Zimbabwe? We are in no doubt in a deepening crisis.

The Sky News report that exposed the brutality of the military showed that there is confusion in our government. While the Herald newspaper claimed the footage was old, President Mnangagwa reacted differently to the report. President Mnangagwa said he is “appalled” after seeing reports by Sky News of police and soldiers beating civilians during protests.

Is he really appalled?

He tweeted that “this is not the Zimbabwean way” after Sky’s Africa correspondent, John Sparks, revealed the atrocities he has seen in the country over the past week as Zimbabweans protest against the fuel price rise.

“I was appalled by today’s Sky News report. This is not the Zimbabwean way,” the president said.

“I have instructed that the individuals behind this be arrested and encourage all those impacted to contact the authorities and file an official complaint.”

Either the centre is not holding, or we have a president who is indicating left and turning right. What really is going on in Zimbabwe? We are in no doubt in a deepening crisis. f

Lets love and speak up for the voiceless

Now more than ever is the time for us as Zimbabwean to be true followers of Jesus before anything else—nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography—our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. I implore you my fellow Christians to pray that our nation will see Jesus’ words in us. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Let us spread love, expose evil and speak up for the voiceless and the abused.

When politics undermines our theology, we must examine that politics. The church’s role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ. However, the church leaders in Zimbabwe have chosen to wine and dine with the oppressors of the people, neglecting to stand up and speak against violence and intimidation of the citizens by the government.

The government’s role is to serve the common good by protecting justice and peace, rewarding good behavior while restraining bad behavior (Romans 13). When that role is undermined by political leadership, faith leaders must stand up and speak out. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”

All the silent church leaders must stop and take time to ponder on that statement by Dr. King.

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