Amid protests, Zimbabwe’s Christian leaders band together to speak out

In Zimbabwe, there are protests against the government and officials’ harsh treatment of a Christian pastor whose video about his frustration went viral on the internet. Now, Christian leaders in the country have called for an end to harassment of clergy and for a just response to other grievances.
“We call upon our government to listen to the cries of citizens whose cries and sufferings are loud and clear. There is need to act justly and mercifully on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged in our nation,” a group of Christian leaders said in a July 14 statement.

The Zimbabwe Catholic bishops’ conference joined the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, and other groups in making the statement.

The leaders voiced concern about apparent disregard for the constitution by the government and police, failure to deal with corruption, and the exclusion of citizens from determining their destiny. Intra-party conflicts are distracting the government from dealing with real economic and social issues.

They voiced concern about the harassment and arrests of religious leaders, including Pastor Mawarire, and the intimidation of other pastors “speaking on behalf of powerless people.”

“These grievances must be viewed as the early warning signs which indicate underlying and simmering tensions that will soon explode into civil unrest if not addressed,” they said.

In May, the Baptist pastor Evan Mawarire launched the “#ThisFlag” social media movement to voice frustration about the state of Zimbabwe. His campaign spread through Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp.

The pastor’s videos have stressed non-violence, though some younger activists in a movement called Tajamuka are less moderate, BBC News reports.

The pastor was arrested and charged with inciting public violence and subversion, but was released after a court threw out charges.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has verbally attacked Mawarire, claiming he is a false minister backed by foreign countries that want to destabilize Zimbabwe.

The protests center on several demands. They advocate that civil servants be paid on time; fewer roadblocks and police shakedowns; the legal prosecution of corrupt officials; and the end of a ban on many imported goods. They also object to plans to introduce bond notes to ease a cash shortage.

In June Zimbabwe ran out of money. All civil servants, including soldiers, police, teachers, and nurses, were paid late. Many people cannot afford food and the country is suffering the worst drought in decades. The unemployment rate is at 90 percent.

In early July, a one-day national strike in protest of the situation in Zimbabwe completely shut down schools, businesses, and shops around the country. Mawarire was among the strike’s backers.

The Christian leaders’ message condemned law enforcement brutality and urged the government to protect citizens’ rights to demonstrate and protest.

“In exercising this right, we implore citizens to always remain peaceful in their demonstrations,” they said.

They also had a special message for Christian believers:

“We call upon the Church, which is the salt and light of this nation, to continue to pray and also to speak out prophetically against any unjust system, until we have a peaceful and prosperous Zimbabwe in which every citizen’s God given and constitutional rights are respected.”

The religious leaders said they wanted a nation that respects all citizens and that fears God in its love for justice, peace and love of one’s neighbor.

“May God grant us Zimbabweans the courage, faith and hope to face our challenges,” they prayed.

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