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Religious leaders vs the authoritarian demagogue

Religious leaders vs the authoritarian demagogue

In 1980, the long struggle against racist colonial rule in Rhodesia culminated in the capitulation of the minority white government and the proclamation of the Republic of Zimbabwe.  Its first prime minister was Robert Mugabe who had been the head of the largest revolutionary group ZANU-PF.  In 1987, Mugabe became president and took on all executive authority.  Forty-six years later, Mugabe still holds power and has taken Zimbabwe from a net food exporter to a nation filled with hunger and famine.  Zimbabwe’s economy lies in tatters, inflation became so bad that in recent years the government has abandoned its own currency and adopted the US dollar, but foreign reserves are low so often, even government employees go without pay.  His decades long destruction of the nation has accelerated in recent years as he and his party have sought to create a one-party totalitarian state.

 

Amidst the privation though, christian leaders have begun rising in opposition to the oppressive Mugabe regime.  Earlier this summer pastor Evan Mawarire posted a heartfelt four minute video with the hashtag #thisflag which seems to have a struck a nerve among ordinary Zimbabweans.  In it he said of the Zimbabwean flag; “This flag. This beautiful flag. They tell me that the green is for the vegetation and for the crops. I don’t see any crops in my country.” The yellow in the flag, diamonds, gold and platinum, have been sold off or stolen. The red, blood shed for freedom, was wasted.”  He continued, “They tell me that the black is for the majority, people like me. Yet for some reason, I don’t feel that I am a part of it, this is the time that a change must happen.”

 

The regime’s initial response was an effort to belittle and dismiss Mawarire.   On Twitter, higher education minister Jonathan Moyo dismissed the movement as nothing more than a “pastor’s fart in the corridors of power.”  Moyo went on to describe #ThisFlag supporters as “nameless, faceless trolls”, and initiated his own social media campaign, #OurFlag, which has not garnered much response

pastors fart

More recently, the regime’s efforts have led Pastor Mawarire to flee to South Africa in fear of his life which has led many of his supporters to feel betrayed.

 

But a week ago, a mass protest organized by religious leaders in the national capital, Harare, was met with police force and many leaders as well as journalists were arrested.  The protest against police brutality and in support of ordinary suffering Zimbabweans was led by Pastor Phillip Mugadza of Zimbabwe Divine Destiny and other pastors from Christian Alliance, Prayer Network Zimbabwe, Christian Voice and Pastors Fellowship.  The clergymen had, earlier on, written to the police notifying them of the march but not asking for permission.  The group sent a letter to police alerting them of the march, but not seeking permission because an earlier court order had exempted them of the need to receive police permission.  Said the letter; “This is mainly out of courtesy for internal security in case there may be some unruly elements in the streets.”

Anglicans have also been involved in efforts to free Zimbabwe from Mugabe’s grasp and to begin to turn the country around.  In a recent radio interview, the Archbishop of York repeated his call for Mugabe to step down.  He said that President Mugabe was “very eloquent [and] very educated” but, quoting the famous phrase from Lord Acton to Bishop of London Mandell Creighton in 1887, said that: “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely; and I am afraid that he has been corrupted by his absolute power.

“I would say to him, for the sake of Zimbabwe . . . step down. Step down while there is time and allow someone else to take over Zimbabwe and rule it so that there will be no violent coup which would, again, drive more and more people into difficulty.

He added that  Zimbabwe means “a rock”; but “the country is no longer a rock. It has become a rubble.”

 

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Chaplain Sarah Midzalkowski

Michigan State alumnus and Canterbury MSU associate, Bishop Chad Gandiya, has been instrumental in organizing the Anglican Church in opposition to Mugabe for years. He and his family were displaced from their cathedral and home for several years until the Zimbabwe Supreme Court ruled in their favor and against the president and his clerical cronies. Mugabe will eventually leave office one way or another and the power vacuum will be filled. There are amazing young Zimbabweans ready for change and I hope we westerners will support them in every way possible. The Anglican Church is and will remain a leading light in Zimbabwe and hopefully will continue as an agent for positive change.

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