By Br. Alfonce Kugwa
Religious leaders from different church bodies under the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD), called on the government of Zimbabwe to promote peace and reconciliation in the country at a Conference held in Harare from 28-30 May 2018. The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC), Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), Union for Development of the Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe (UDACIZA) and the American Friends Service Committee expressed concern on issues of peace and reconciliation as Zimbabwe prepares for the harmonised elections to be held on 30 July 2018.
The Conference running under the theme, “Religious Leaders Supporting the Zimbabwe Peace Process”, drew religious leaders from different church bodies and denominations who echoed the need for unit of purpose, peace and tranquillity before, during and after elections. The church leaders challenged government and political parties to ensure that peace prevails at all levels in the country.
The National Coordinator for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe, Mr. Paul Muchena said the purpose of the conference was to enhance the church’s participation in peace processes in the country through dialogue and mediation.
“The main thrust is to enhance the church’s participation in peace processes through such initiatives as dialogue, mediation, peace and reconciliation leading to national transformation with major highlights coming from engagements with Chapter 12 Commissions such as the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC), Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP),” said Mr. Muchena.
The conference discussed about capacities critical for sustaining peace and reconciliation especially considering that the country’s past elections were always characterised with violence and blood shed. The Religious Leaders took some time to learn from experiences of other countries in the Region such as South Africa, Burundi, Togo, and Kenya on how to facilitate peace and reconciliation. In view of peace in the context of elections, the church leaders engaged the NPRC, ZHRC, ZEC and the ZRP to share their commitment to peace before, during and after elections.
The conference also had a political parties and church interface where issues of peace messages, political tolerance, qualities of a responsible leader and voter, sloganeering, human dignity, human life and the constitution and choosing God fearing leaders were tabled.
Bishop Rudolf Nyandoro who is the Chairman for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe warned about the dangers of pronouncing derogatory statements, hate speeches and slogans that divide people and ultimately lead to violence or bloodshed. He encouraged political parties to desist from such practices and to choose words that unite rather than divide people.
He said: “The behaviours and mannerisms we develop in politics especially when we are sloganeering, remove the Christian life and values we purport to have. We have liked politics more than we have liked God, and therefore our brothers and sisters. In our political sloganeering, we have wished our political opponents dead. Literally, it would also mean wishing God dead since everybody was created in his image.”
“Slogans such as ‘Pasi nanhingi’ or ‘Hechoko…..Pasi –bwaa’ mean a lot than their face value. My heart usually misses a bit when I hear them being shouted with all the energy and conviction,” added Bishop Nyandoro.
The Bishop stated that the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe observes, for example that politically related deaths or violence is largely motivated by sloganeering. He reiterated that all political slogans that denigrate human life and dignity are anti-Christian and anti-Constitution and they prepare and programme violence and hatred in our political life.
The Conference also looked at the role of the media in covering the elections, the role of the police and the need for electoral reforms in order to deliver free, fair and credible elections.