Amid political unrest, Zimbabwe churches lead dialogue

Zimbabwe Area Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa, episcopal leader for the Zimbabwe East and Zimbabwe West conferences, joins hands with other Christians and political leaders at a national prayer breakfast and dialogue Feb. 7 in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe Area Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa, episcopal leader for the Zimbabwe East and Zimbabwe West conferences, joins hands with other Christians and political leaders at a national prayer breakfast and dialogue Feb. 7 in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Striving to create an atmosphere of forgiveness and reconciliation following protests that rocked the country, Zimbabwe heads of Christian denominations gathered early this year for a national prayer breakfast and dialogue.

The more than 600 attendees at the Harare International Conference Centre represented business, civic, political and religious groups.

Zimbabwe became deeply fragmented following the disputed election results of July 2018. Citizens, mainly in Harare, Bulawayo and Gweru, continue to issue allegations of abuse at the hands of the military. The situation remains volatile.

People also were feeling the pinch of fuel-price hikes and a failing economy. In response, the government tried in the short term to provide fuel to bus companies to ferry workers at subsidized fares. Teachers threatened to strike but came together in conversation with the government, while health workers shifted to a three-day workweek after striking for 40 days over pay and working conditions.

Urging attendees at the meeting to focus on solutions rather than blame, United Methodist Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa said, “Analyzing a problem and pointing fingers … will not make the problem go away. … We must begin to become a positive and optimistic people.”

Organizers set out to create a prayerful, trusting and collective environment for key national leadership to ease the current mistrust, share a national consensus-building process framework and set the pace and character of future dialogues.

“No one enters the process of forgiveness and comes out the same,” said the Rev. Kenneth Mtata, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches. “They get transformed.”

He said fear prevails “because no one knows what the other is thinking.” However, Mtata added, “That does not make forgiveness impossible.”

In attendance from the Zimbabwe African National Union — Patriotic Front was the minister of defense and war veteran Oppah Muchinguri, who represented the head of state, President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Viewing the meeting as a blessing to the highly polarized nation, he said, “This is a very important platform. It’s God-sent … God’s provision,” said Nelson Chamisa, president of the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance.

Muchinguri read a statement from Mnangagwa, which said in part, “Constant encounters of this nature enable dialogue between the church and all stakeholders. Such platforms under this anointing also help to unite us towards a common vision and a one shared destiny.”

Acknowledging that “politicians are the source of the agonies of our land,” Chamisa said he believes dialogue is possible and the national consensus-building process must not be impeded.

“The fundamental problem of our country is that we need healing, we need peace, we need unity, and for that to happen, we need President Mnangagwa and myself,” the opposition leader said.

Bishow Parajuli, United Nations resident coordinator and head of the U.N. Country Team in Zimbabwe, said he is happy to see the consensus-building process work.

“Dialogue provides prospects for unity of purpose, just relationships and a prosperous nation,” he said.

In his statement, Mnangagwa urged participants “collectively (to) work together towards uniting Zimbabweans in peace, love and harmony.” He applauded the church in taking the lead and urged it to remain “the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”

Rev. Taurai Emmanuel Maforo, communicator for the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area.

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