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Working for the Common Good

 

WORKING FOR THE COMMON GOOD

Joint Pastoral Statement of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference

 

May 1998


 

 

1. INTRODUCTION

Dear Brothers and Sisters, fellow Zimbabwean citizens, there is no doubt that we live in a time of crisis for our beloved country and its people.The recent food riots and two national stay away days are indications of a general deep discontent and resentment. Whilst we do not condone the violence of the riots, even as an expression of deep grievances, we acknowledge the situation out of which this behaviour arose. It is not difficult to see the root causes of widespread discontent in the sharply rising cost of living,deteriorating public health and educational services, huge unemployment, growth in corrupt practices and the decreasing purchasing power of many workers' salaries. At the same time there is resentment that a fortunate few can accumulate and flaunt such extremes of wealth in a display of power, oblivious to the serious poverty that is experienced by many. Things seem so serious that many have a disenchantment in regard to the power of any agency to change things for the better. and seem to consider that the only morality possible is to allow market forces free reign and to act in one's own self-interest.

 

The Bishops of Zimbabwe do not subscribe to such pessimism or to such pseudo-morality: we believe that things can change for the better, but change must be based on the principles of social justice, not oh an unfettered free market capitalism, an undemocratic neo-liberalism, We do not believe that market forces are able to protect collective goods such as the environment, nor do we believe that market forces by themselves should control basic social services such as health, education, housing or transport. We also do not believe that the values of self-interest and greed are justified. "Per beneath an outward appearance of indifference, in the heart of every person there is a will to live in brotherhood and with a thirst for justice and peace..."

 

2. OUR HOPE

It is our intention to read the signs of the times, in hopes of better promoting the cause of justice for the poor. Using the social teaching of the Church, we speak from the perspective of Christian tradition, based on Scripture, with a history of social service and a strong commitment to education and health services in the country. We as Church do not identify with anyone political party, in power or out of power, even though we do encourage individual Christians who possess a gift of leadership to become involved in politics. Our concern is more than political: we sense that economic or political solutions alone are not enough to solve the current situation, because our root crisis is moral. In fact we do not know all the answers to the dire situation in which we find ourselves, but rather we have a hope in the power of our people themselves to develop answers, a hope in our collective future, based ultimately on our hope in the risen Lord and his Kingdom. This faith has consequences for our society. Our conviction is that if we are able to dialogue constructively, openly and widely, with a special concern for those who are vulnerable or in any way marginalised, we will unite together. whether religious or not, as people of good will, for the common good of Zimbabwe and its future generations.

 

3. POVERTY

Zimbabwe has much poverty (the 1996 Poverty Assessment Study reckoned 64 percent of households and three-quarters of the population were 'poor' or 'very poor'), and it is growing. Although by the standards of Africa, or even of the region, Zimbabwe is a moderately wealthy country, nevertheless this wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, and the poverty that is there is growing, and its effects are severe. Too many of our people are suffering the effects of destitution. In this situation it is simply unacceptable that, on the government's own admission, the Social Development Fund (designed to be a cushion against the human cost of ESAP) is bankrupt, whilst at the same time large amounts of public money are spent on apparent luxuries, military budget allocations are made at the expense of health and education, parastatals continue to absorb huge subsidies with little or no social returns, and Government expenditure and borrowing expanding seemingly without limit.

In addition the ethos of our public life needs a return to gospel values: inefficiency and corruption must be weeded out, and there must be a clear commitment to the ideal of service for others.

 

4. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Our country has high expectations because a war of liberation was fought over the injustices of racism and colonialism. In the first decade ofIndependence we saw great strides in access to health and education services: for example, the primary school enrollment nearly doubled in a decade, and preventative and primary health programmes were successfully developed, thanks to the combined efforts of Government, local communities, churches, and NGDs. Nevertheless serious problems in the economy saw the Government introducing ESAP in the 1·990s, this being done with little or no consultation or due explanation. The end of shortages following ESAP brought about greater extremes in lifestyles. It satisfied the wants of the rich, but did little to meet the need of the poor. Although some macro-economic indicators improved, the effects on the lives of the poor have been severe and are well documented, "Cost recovery" measures, for example, seemed to cause drops in school attendance, especially for girls.

 

5. HEALTH

"Cost recovery" measures have seriously affected health services. Clinic visits have dropped, outpatient attendances and hospital stays have decreased. people arrive at health institutions late with more serious complications, and deaths of women in childbirth have increased.

In addition Government successes in, for example, improving nutritional status of children, and in developing 80 per cent coverage of children for immunisation, will be put at risk by the withdrawal of financing. Health spending has been cut to a level where real per capita spending is at its lowest since Independence. the quality of services has declined sharply, and the proportion of expenditure on preventative rather than curative services has dropped. Certain essential drugs have become too expensive for some institutions. Measles has become a killer disease. Infant and child mortality rates also seem to have increased in the 1990s, and this increase is compounded by the tragic effects of drought years and the AIDS pandemic. Now one in every nine infants born in Harare is HlV-positive.

Church health institutions are eager to complement Government services in an atmosphere of respectful partnership- beds in church-related hospitals make up 35 percent of all available, and 70 percent of rural hospital beds- but difficulties remain. To work in partnership, and with a special concern for the poor, church-related hospitals should, at the very least, be treated no different to Government hospitals with respect to finance and personnel allocation. Church authorities also recognise the partnership they have with so many dedicated rural employees in hospitals, clinics and education institutions. We acknowledge with gratitude the service they give under difficult circumstances, allowing the Church to realise her desire to serve especially the poor in health and education.

 

6. EDUCATION

Our educational system has achieved much through expansion, but it must now be used as a tool to overcome poverty by offering young people the tools with which to be productive, caring and moral citizens of the future. We must address the needs of quality and relevant education. Young people must receive encouragement, and for everyone there is a place in

society where he or she can be educated to make a valuable contribution.

The educational system also needs to be more equitable, because primary schooling has suffered more from the effects of ESAP policies than secondary, and particularly tertiary sectors; in particular the schools in commercial farming areas have larger classes, fewer qualified teachers, lower transition rates and fewer girls than the national average.

Though we know of many dedicated teachers, we note with sadness what seems like an increasing lack of discipline and morality in the teaching profession in generaL There has to be a recommitment to professional ethics and morality, so that entrusting children to the care of others for so serious a task as education can be done in confidence and with the expectation of competence and dedication from the teaching profession.

 

7. LABOUR

An economic system that brings so few young people into the world of work is seriously flawed. The economy must serve people, not people the economy'. We need to feed, clothe and house all our people. However our present economic system is biased in favour of capital, at the expense of labour. To deal with this and the reality of falling real wages and youth unemployment increasing, we have to develop economic strategies that increase production and favour labour-intensive investment. We also have to ensure that everyone sees the need for a commitment to honest hard work.

We also recognise the important role those in the informal sector play, not just in providing livelihoods for many, but in creating many kinds of goods and services unavailable or uncompetitive in the formal sector. Government, both central and local, could do more in the protection and promotion of informal sector activities, which are a source of income for

many poor, especially women.

 

8. AGRARIAN REFORM

Much of our poverty in Zimbabwe is related to people having access only to poor land, a consequence of our colonial history that still has not been adequately addressed. We are aware that three quarters of our peasant farmers live in Natural Regions IV and V, with poor land and unreliable water sources. How should we alter this unjust situation? The Bible tells us that the earth is God's and He gives it to all his children. The Church's teaching has always stressed that, although it recognises private property as a right, there is a corresponding social mortgage or obligation. If private property does not serve the people as a whole then "when a person is in extreme necessity he has the right to supply himself with what he needs out of the riches of others'". In our situations of injustice and poverty agrarian reform is not only an instrument of distributive justice and economic growth, but is also an act of great political wisdom.

But reform through land redistribution is only the beginning of a process that has to include adequate and appropriate planning, technology and infrastructure, access to credit, adequate social services and a comprehensive state commitment through juridical frameworks, protection of human rights, genuine decentralisation, and farmer-friendly reforms", The ultimate goal should be an honest and transparent programme of redistribution and resettlement, adequately funded and prepared,together with clear criteria for eligibility for resettled land.Women,who form at least 40 percent of de facto heads of households in rural areas, must be equitably included for resettled land, along with other marginalised individuals and families. Displacement of farm labourers must be avoided, and their future assured. Previous programmes of resettlement have so far not used these combined criteria for just agrarian reform, and we call on Government to ensure these be used in future programmes.

 

9. DEBT

"Must we starve our children to pay our debts?"asked former President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere.The Government sinks deeper into debt, though it has managed to avoid a large exposure of hard-currency debt. In five years Government expenditure on debt repayments rose from five to ten per cent of our Gross Domestic Product. Increasing debt crowds out other claims on the fiscus, and it seems to us that the weakest groups in society suffer the most, for they have the least political influence. Savings from cuts in military expenditures and in ministerial budget allocations can be used for social sectors in assisting the poor. Our levels of budget deficits and debt repayments are fueling inflation and threatening our future. Thus the poor pay twice for this debt. We simply cannot sustain our levels of state expenditure, and we must readjust state priorities to protect the gains made so heroically after independence in health and education.

 

10. SOLIDARITY

Our country needs radical solutions but they are to be found initially at the level of the heart, We need to return to a spirit of self-sacrifice, a sense of collective sharing in the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. We are eighteen years old, which for individuals is usually a time for adulthood and assuming the responsibilities of citizenship. We need to accept full responsibility and act with circumspection. Intelligent and responsible reactions are interactions with others. Genuine dialogue between state and all sections of civil society is required.

Solidarity also extends to those who may be classified as opponents,but who nevertheless remain fellow citizens.Taken literally some slogans call for physical assault on opponents,or worse,and evokes memories of the executions of the pre Independence period, and are an obstacle to the dialogue for which we are pleading. The call of solidarity also concerns those who suffer the disease of AIDS, their families, and those who have been made orphans by the death of their parents. A competitive society would have little time for such people, but our society should be marked by care and solidarity for people with AIDS. "The battle against AIDS ought to be everyone's battle'". The Constitution of a nation is the fundamental law -the current constitution,enacted at Lancaster House and amended 14 times since, should be changed. We want wide-ranging dialogue for constitutional renewal: public debate about a constitutional instrument owned by the people,for the people and at the service of the people.We Bishops offer our services to civil society and to Government in whatever way they may find them useful for this goal. Such public involvement in the creation of a new constitution more appropriate for our times will give people a greater sense of security,of involvement and a greater respect for the rule of law, which is in danger of being diminished through recent events. This solidarity and atmosphere of dialogue require free media. Existing media must be complemented by media owned and used by other social agents.In this process of supporting alternative view points we have to ensure that such media are not monopolised by big business or Government either.

 

11. CHANGE

No social trend 01' force is above being changed for the better. Though the pace of change in our society is increasing rapidly and unpredictably,we have a belief in the power of individual choices to bring about positive change. If we keep in mind and apply the principles that flow from the gospel and Church social teaching solidarity and subsidiarity", a concern for the poor,for the common good--then we will demonstrate a priority of ethics over technology, of persons over things.

 

12. CONCLUSION

To seek to do more, to know more, to have more, so that one can be more, this is the legitimate desire of many in Zimbabwe, yet many also live in situations that make such a desire illusory.

He has told you, 0 mortal,what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

 

 

+Patrick F Chakaipa, Archbishop of Harare

+Pius A Ncube, Archbishop of Bulawayo

+Alexic C Muchabaiwa, Bishop of Mutare, President ZCBC

+Francis N M Mugadzi, Bishop of Gweru

+Ignatius Prieto SMI, Bishop of Hwange

+Helmut Reckter SI, Bishop of Chinhoyi

+Michael D Bhasera, Bishop of Ookwe

+Patrick M Mutume, Auxiliary Bishop of Mutare

 

 

1. Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Octogesima Adveniens, 1971,#48

 

2. "It is the responsibility of the local Christian community to analyse with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country, to shed on it the light of the Gospel's unalterable words and to draw principles of reflection, norms of judgement and directives for action from the social teaching of the Church." Octogesima Adveniens, #4

 

3. "The obligation to earn one's bread by the sweat of one's brow also presumes the right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied, in which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of employment, cannot be justified from an ethical point of view,nor can that society attain social peace."Pope John Pau II, Apostolic Letter Centestmus Amws, 1991,#43

 

4. VaticanCouncil 11,Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudiumet$pes.1965, #69

 

5. Towards abetter distribution of Land, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. 1998

 

6. ibid,#49

 

7. John Paul 1I, The Church in Africa, 1995,# 116. 8 This important concept used in Catholic Social Teaching means that no superior agency should take to itself functions that can be performed by lesser bodies. Plus XI, writing in Quadragesimo Amw, #79, even said that "it is an injustice,a grave evil and a disturbance of right order,fora largerandhigherassociationtoarrogatetoitselffunctionswhichcanbeperformed efficiently by smaller and lower societies".

 

9. Micnh 6:8

Photo by WolfSchmidt Si

Puhlished by theSocialCommunicationsDepartmentoftheZimbabweCatholicBishops'Conference,Africa Synod House, 29·31 Selous Avenue, P,O. Box CY 2220, Causeway, Zimbabwe. ; Printed by Kolbe Press.