After their meeting in Harare 15 days ago, the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) released a paper, Call for National Sabbath For Trust and Confidence Building, which essentially suggested the suspension of national elections for seven years.
The election Sabbath was to enable the various political actors in the country and citizens to, in the words of the ZHOCD, build trust and confidence after which elections could be held.
As a backgrounder, the paper sought to highlight the biblical significance of the number seven. God commanded his people to set aside the seventh day of the week for a rest and seven years are considered as Sabbath years. Seven seven-year Sabbaths or forty-nine years constituted what was called the Jubilee season they said. In that season, they added, the land would be left fallow so that it could recover its nutrients, debts would be forgiven and new relationships built and God would bless his people.
About 85 percent of Zimbabweans are Christians who also deeply respect their Christian leaders. Thus the word of the pastor, bishop or reverend often prevails. However, ZHOCD’s word proposing an election Sabbath has been resoundingly rejected by a people who, while respecting their men and women of the cloth, also respect their constitution and laws.
President Mnangagwa, in an emphatic but respectful 19-page letter rejecting the Christian leaders suggestions and what we also see as unfair criticisms on the Government, said election suspension was odd and incongruous when read against the cardinal value and principle at the heart of constitutionalism. He said the proposal was tantamount to inviting the President to be a co-conspirator in the overthrow of the very Constitution which is sworn to uphold, respect and defend.
“Let me emphatically state, at the outset, that my office is a creature of the Constitution and laws of Zimbabwe, both which I am sworn to uphold, defend, obey and respect to their letter and spirit,” the President declared.
He went on give detailed responses to some of the issues raised by ZHOCD.
Key among them, he said, the Government convened the Political Actors Dialogue and unveiled a plan to create an office of the leader of the opposition both of which have been rejected by MDC Alliance leader, Mr Nelson Chamisa.
The President also highlighted that contrary to aspersions contained in the ZHOCD communication that State institutions and other arms of the State are compromised, they are in fact independent while the military continues to play its roles as mandated by the constitution.
Going through the ZHOCD document, we found it hard to separate it in terms of its not-so-pastoral language and issues it seeks to tackle from the usual opposition standpoints.
They said that they had “prayerfully” come to the conclusion that in light of the “current political paralysis, deepening mistrust and the dehumanising economic decline, the nation will need to take a bold decision to address the root causes of our national challenges that have a very long history and will not be fully resolved by one entity.”
They added: “Such a polarised environment weakens respect for national institutions such as the courts, the police and the security sectors. Once such institutions are viewed as partisan and lacking in independence, it becomes impossible to elicit cooperation among the policy and political actors to drive a national reform process in the best interests of the nation.”
Any MDC Alliance document could have read exactly like that. This, in our view, is why the President took time to come up with a detailed response highlighting what the Government has done or is doing to create a shared national vision.
We argue that the language that the ZHOCD deployed in their paper is unhelpful because it gives the notion that the whole exercise is a hatchet job masquerading as a well-meaning letter from a group of people who must be seen as neutral and genuinely seeking a national consensus on pressing national issues. For this and more reasons, the President correctly rejected the subjective criticisms in the pastoral letter and its main thrust to suggest a suspension of elections.
We find it very unfortunate, nay curious, that the letter does not mention, for example, the ruinous impact of Western sanctions against our country and the role that the opposition has played and continues to play in their sustenance. It could have been very important if the church leaders had taken advantage of the ongoing Sadc crusade against the illegal embargo which culminates on Friday and set to continue beyond that day, to denounce the measures and their adverse impact on the economy and the resulting humanitarian situation in the country.
Additionally, the letter does not mention the violence that was visited upon the country in August last year and January this year by the opposition attempting to destabilise and possibly overthrow the Government.
We feel that every citizen of this country should work honestly, diligently and in terms of the law to advance the national interest.