Editorial from Church & State, Spring 2005 (Number 80)

Church Split In Zimbabwe

A gibe thrown at Gerry Adams has been that he is more Mugabe than Mandela. He obviously does not know how to deal with it because Sinn Fein has unthinkingly accepted the general demonisation of the 'Sinn Fein' of Zimbabwe, Zanu-PF. Condemnation of the chaos and of the general political set-up in this fairly-recently liberated country has been universal, with the consensus stretching from Daily Ireland to the Sunday Independent. And yet the parallels with the Irish situation are striking and should evoke sympathy for the attempt to make something of a country which British Imperialism artificially constructed, exploited, damaged, and divided. The present attitude to Zanu-PF's attempt to do something about the mess they were left with is very much orchestrated by the former Imperial masters, intent on restoring the neo-colonial status in which Northern Rhodesia was left after liberation was ultimately won.

If Ireland had made its revolution in 1800, it would be much in the situation that Zimbabwe was in when President Mugabe took power: with the land in the hands of an alien settler caste that had robbed the land from the people and which held the levers of economic power in its hands, as well as having political control of the country. Education was for the elite. Zanu-PF took political power. It started by transforming social life, and in particular it made education available for all. But there was a mountain to climb if it wanted to bring the economic life of the country into consonance with the aspirations of a people, large swathes of which were wedded to tribal forms of land tenure.

If Ireland had made a revolution in 1800, who knows what arrangements would have been made regarding land ownership? As it was, a British Tory Government made a peaceful land revolution in 1903, establishing small-holdings. This meant that, when the Irish political revolution came to be made, a messy land war was avoided. The British forces were correspondingly weakened by having almost wholly lost their base in the land.

When the blacks in Northern Rhodesia won their freedom, part of the deal was that after ten years the British Government would subsidise land reform, putting the stolen land back into native ownership. But what the British Government did not then make explicit was that it intended the huge farms of Zimbabwe to remain in the type of production, 'commercial farming', which the settlers had established. Essentially this meant producing commodities such as tobacco for the world market, rather than providing a livelihood and food for the people of Zimbabwe. Because Zanu-PF wanted to break up the huge settler farms and return the land to popular use, the promised money was never forthcoming. The party was therefore obliged to engage in a class war against the settlers—which earned them hostile coverage from the media in the West—with the Irish Times adding its puny voice. Attitudes in Africa are very different, however. Other countries with a settler problem and a land-hungry population are watching very closely to see what happens.

Worse than the hostile media coverage from the 'civilised' world was the economic punishment meted out to Zimbabwe. It was worse even than the 'economic war' with which Britain tried to break Fianna Fail in the 1930s. Money markets punished its currency by making it practically worthless, which disrupted production; aid was withheld; and the non-agricultural economy was thrown out of kilter. This had a dire effect in the cities, with unemployment and rampant inflation. This led to a growth in support for the Movement for Democratic Change, the MDC—which also became a political haven for some of the erstwhile settlers who hoped to retain their privileged globalist position.

However the Central Bank of Zimbabwe is under very wise management. It understands very well the pitfalls of Free Market economics—and it is sponsoring native enterprise with judicious grants. And the huge rural base of Zanu-PF, which is less affected by external pressures, remains solid.

On top of all these problems there is a serious tribal division. The majority Shona and minority Ndebeles worked together for liberation. But afterwards there was a falling out, with a civil war of sorts. The minority tribe remains disaffected and provides the base for the MDC. (The Matabeleland area is mixed.) That Party has called for outside Sanctions against its own country. It is obviously not confident of winning power by fair means. Indeed, it is surprising that the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangiri (who has a Trade Union background), remains a free man. He tried to hire a Canadian to assassinate Mugabe a couple of years back—an episode which was caught on film.

In the recent elections there have been allegations of fraud and manipulation, but the 500 observers from the African Union have been satisfied with the election. South Africa's African National Congress took a particularly active role, stopping over-enthusiasm in both Zanu-PF and MDC strongholds. (The South African Trade Union movement, had leant towards the MDC.) Media reporting of this has, of course, been totally biassed and one-sided.

The Catholic Church in Zimbabwe spans both tribes. And, in recent years, instead of acting as a bridge between the two main forces in contention, the Vatican has thrown its weight behind the Ndebeles. Zimbabwe's only two Archbishops are now from this tribe. But, as in the society, so in the Church, the Shona are in the majority. The Shona Bishops, however, make no attempt to counter-act Vatican policy. They merely block anti-Shona initiatives inspired by those who are fighting on an anti-Zimbabwe agenda.

During the recent election campaign, the Ndebele leader of the Church, Archbishop Pius Ncube, called for a peaceful revolution against the elected Government on the Ukrainian model. The trick is to get sufficient numbers on the streets to present a threat to public order. In the Ukraine (as in Serbia), the police did not intervene. But in Zimbabwe they clearly would. Ncube has hinted that, if appreciable numbers were killed in such demonstrations, the UN might be forced to intervene. He came close to sketching out this scenario in an interview in 2004:

"If there is civil unrest in Zimbabwe in the face of the oppression by Mugabe, and he calls in the army to shoot people down, and kills thousands of them—which he will do—the United Nations will be responsible for that blood because of their silence. They must speak up and call Mugabe to responsibility."

This is certainly a feasible scenaria—and the way for foreign intervention has been prepared by the incessant black propaganda which well-meaning people in the West take at face value. Fortunately, Zimbabwe's neighbours, South Africa (under President Thabo Mbeki) and Tanzania (under President Benjamin Mkapa), remain supportive—and the Zanu-PF leadership itself is determined and politically astute: it sees what the 'civilised West' is up to. (Hence the banning of American, European and British election observers and the deployment of a hefty contingent of Africans.) The way for the so-called 'velvet revolutions' is usually prepared by work on the ground by foreign-funded 'Human Rights' organisations, working with foreign-funded media interests. But Zimbabwe has banned the foreign funding of its media. And now Parliament has passed a Bill, which is awaiting Mugabe's signature, banning foreign funding of Human Rights groups (see Irish Times 9.2.05).

Archbishop Ncube has made several trips to England and Ireland in recent times—presumably canvassing his revolutionary views. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin hosted a trip to Dublin, and there was a separate visit to Cork Diocese. The MDC itself knows that any attempt at revolution would lead to a blood-bath. A leader has said that they would engage in revolution if they dared: but they simply haven't got the courage to precipitate the war that would bring about outside intervention. They know that a 'peaceful revolution' in Zimbabwe is just not on: Zanu-PF simply would not allow itself to be robbed of the electoral victory by non-electoral means.

Apart from the Imperial inheritance, there is another prallel with Ireland—the opposition to Zanu-PF is wont to point to the halcyon days of colonialism, when there was peace and everyone was well-fed and happy. There is the suggestion that there was no need to fight a war to get independence: the Whites would eventually have handed over power peacefully! (Whatever about that fairy-tale, it has to be said that there are benefits for the liberated in having won theiir country by their own strength: the movement is steeled in war in a way which provides a base for purposeful independent action after peace is won.) These revisionist tendencies are evident in the extracts from two articles from the English Catholic paper, The Tablet, which appear below. The first dates from 2004, before Archbishop decided to call for 'peaceful revolution'. An extract from a piece by the late Mary Holland follows, just to inject a note of reality.

Pius Ncube, Archbishop of Bulawayo, Interview With James Roberts:—

"…Born into a peasant family in what was then the internally self-governing British colony of Southern Rhodesia, on the last day of 1946, he entered a world whose key concepts were cultivation and yield, and where wealth was measured not in dollars but in the living flesh and blood of animals. At a distance of half a century from his rural African boyhood, he was able to tell me that his parents had "cultivated enough to eat. I never starved as I grew up. We used cattle as draught animals. We would get enough yield for two or even three years. There was plenty of rain in those days, unlike today. My parents reared cattle as well as goats and sheep: goats, perhaps 30; sheep, 50 or 60; cattle, 30 or 40. The cattle were kept to sell in case of need, and for food."

"[On his visit to London] …he was calling on Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and doing what he could during a short visit to London to prevent the total destruction of his home country, Zimbabwe, by the man who rules it.…

"Ncube locates his faith elsewhere, and it is not just built on rock, it is made of it. "Catholic schools have gone down a lot, not only in Europe but also in Africa", he told me. "There is too much humanism coming in after the [Second] Vatican Council. Before then, Catholics were very, very convinced of their faith. There was no compromise. It was either/or. As a child in school the first thing was, you went to Mass, for about 45 minutes from 7.30, after which we went for lessons. Every day the first lesson was catechism. So, do this five days a week, and after a year or two you really knew what you believed. Today, all the schools are running after ‘achievement’, big results. Formerly, the faith factor was the most important. This other thing was only secondary. Now the faith factor is secondary, performance is the first factor."

"Such flinty conviction also prompts Ncube to reject the sentimental orthodoxy, according to which the bloodshed that brought Mugabe to power in 1980 was somehow necessary. The former leader Ian Smith, Ncube argues, could have been "arm-twisted" by "well-organised passive resistance" into agreeing to majority rule. But while others died Mugabe learned that, for him, violence worked.

"The members of the Zimbabwe Bishops’ Conference have often interpreted their faith in a different way from Ncube. The former Archbishop of Harare, Patrick Chakaipa, who died last year, was always close to Mugabe. "He was Mugabe’s friend". says Ncube. "That’s as far as I can go." Most notoriously, however, Chakaipa, while distancing himself from the murderous violence associated with Mugabe’s "land grab" of recent years, nevertheless gave his blessing to the broad policy of farm seizures that has left millions hungry, jobless and homeless while good land across the country lies fallow.

"Moreover, the bishops’ conference still refuses to endorse the single authoritative account of the gukurahundi campaign in Ncube’s home area of Matabeleland in the early Eighties, that led to the deaths of up to 20,000 people and still casts its shadow over the country and its dictator. The report, compiled by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and released by the Legal Resources Foundation in 1997, is called Breaking the Silence.…

"…Ncube himself has endorsed the Breaking the Silence report, but to this day the bishops’ conference has not.

"The recent appointment of the Bishop of Hwange, Robert Ndlovu, as Archbishop of Harare, has given the Government a new opportunity to attempt to divide the conference. As reported in The Tablet on 19 June, Ndlovu’s appointment means that the country’s two archbishops, Ndlovu and Ncube, are both Ndebeles from Matabeleland, while the majority Shona people are only represented in the conference by bishops. In its mouthpiece newspaper, the Herald, on 12 July, the Government placed an unsourced story quoting only "influential and concerned Catholics" and "some devout Catholics" as evidence that the appointment of Ndlovu was causing a tribal rift in the Church. The Government, in other words, appeared to be attempting to create the very rift it purported to be describing. On 13 July the papal nuncio, Archbishop Edward Adams, was quoted as saying that comments in the Tablet article "viewed the appointment wrongly in a political light". The Tablet had said the appointment was a signal from the Vatican that it wanted the Catholic Church to take a firmer line with Mugabe. Adams insisted that Ndlovu "comes to Harare in obedience to and at the express wish of, the Holy Father". Ncube, as quoted in the June Tablet article and also during last week’s interview, took great pains to distinguish his own "out-spoken" approach to the political situation in Zimbabwe from Ndlovu’s "neutralist" position. But clearly all members of the bishops’ conference will need to be alert to government attempts to divide them, given that, as Ncube said, "anyone who takes a stand, Mugabe tries to isolate".

"However, there was much, Ncube suggested, that the outside world could and should do. Tony Blair had played into Mugabe’s hands. "Mugabe himself, treacherously and deceitfully, blames all the evils of Zimbabwe, of which he himself is the author, on the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. But by being shy, failing to stand up to him and call him to responsibility, [the British] are playing into his hands. He has got them where he wants them."" I asked Ncube what a wiser course for Blair would be. "He should simply say: ‘Look after your people’," Ncube said…

"As for the UN, it also needs to take a firm stand and insist on holding Mugabe to account. "If there is civil unrest in Zimbabwe in the face of the oppression by Mugabe, and he calls in the army to shoot people down, and kills thousands of them—which he will do—the United Nations will be responsible for that blood because of their silence. They must speak up and call Mugabe to responsibility."

"…"So you think Zimbabweans simply have to accept an illegitimate government and hope it treats them better than it did before?" I asked.

""I do not condone it, I condemn it", Ncube said. ""But for the sake of peace, yes. What else can you do?"

"I thought of the world in which Ncube grew up. That was not free either, but there was food, and many went to school, and most slept easily in their beds. If Zimbabweans are very, very lucky with their next leader, they might just be able to aspire in the coming decade to the kind of life that Ncube knew as a boy in the Forties and Fifties. A full granary, healthy livestock, a good night’s sleep after a hard day’s work. Compared with the Zimbabwe of today, where good land lies fallow and the sick and starving fall, die and decompose by the roadside, it would feel like heaven. And—perhaps—it is the right and proper calling of an archbishop to bring them there."
(The Tablet, 31 July 2004)

"Why the Pope should invite Mugabe

"From a special correspondent

"…The Zimbabwean Bishops’ Conference is… ethnically divided. It is easy from the outside to underestimate the pressures the bishops are under and the difficult choices they face. But by keeping silent they are distancing themselves from Archbishop Pius’s critiques of Mugabe… A united stand critical of the Mugabe Government would show the world not just that the Zimbabwean Catholic Bishops’ Conference is above tribalism but would also bring pressure on a Catholic president to change his policies or to stand down. It seems that neighbouring African states, for their part, are reluctant to apply any such pressure themselves."
(The Tablet, 8 March 2003)


"Zimbabwe has lessons for parties in the North

"By Mary Holland

""Pas devant les noirs." My host smiled, a warning finger raised to his lips. We were sitting in the open, enjoying a lunchtime barbecue on a spacious farm in what was then Southern Rhodesia. That was more than 20 years ago, but the occasion is as clear in my memory as if it had happened last week.

"For a start the setting was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. The long, low white house was furnished with an eclectic mix of exquisitely graceful African carvings, modern paintings bought in Paris and New York, and antique furniture brought out from "home" which was, of course, England.

"The lawn was immaculately green against the burnt red earth; vivid blossoms hung voluptuously from the trees and the hills of Africa were hazy in the distance. It was easy to understand the white farmers' attachment to their land.

"I was there as a reporter, in the last days of Ian Smith's regime. A journalistic contact of Irish parentage had brought me to this breathtaking place to hear the views of the farmers and their wives. African servants, dressed in uniform, glided across the lawn to bring us our food. The assorted guests discussed whether the appalling guerrilla campaign could be brought to a peaceful end. In particular, they wanted to talk about the loyalty, or otherwise, of their black workers.

"It was agreed that some behaviour could not be condoned. Mr X, who farmed several thousand acres a few miles away, was heading for real trouble if he continued to make his black workers copulate in front of him. It was at this point, as a servant moved to refill our wine glasses, that our host warned his guests to be more discreet.

"Later, my journalist friend spoke in more measured tones of the relationship between the white farmers and their black workers. It was accepted, for example, that many farmers, even those who considered themselves relatively liberal, beat their labourers. He was not hopeful about a happy future for his beautiful country, even if the British government got tough with Ian Smith. Most of the good land was held by white farmers and they would not easily part with it.

"…I keep thinking of that lunch and of the fact that 4,200 white farmers still own 70 per cent of the good land and 350,000 black farm labourers are paid the equivalent of 60p a day. Land is always an emotive issue as we, of all people, should understand. Other black African leaders, who share a history of colonialism, are reluctant to condemn Mugabe. The question that has to be addressed is why the land issue has been allowed to fester for 20 years and whether there is the will to institute real reform now…"
(Irish Times 27.4.2000)

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