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Reflecting on the Role of the Catholic Institutions in the Promotion of Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe

(Dr. David Kaulemu, AFCAST Regional Coordinator for Eastern and Southern Africa)+

The Catholic/Christian Response

The Zimbabwean situation is very polarized even in how we interpret our situation. When one asserts that Zimbabwe is in a crisis, there will be people who will ask, “What crisis?” because for them everything is pretty normal. Even as the economy reels into a meltdown, inflation soaring high everyday and poverty spreads at high speed in both urban and rural areas, there are people who still insist on interpreting the Zimbabwean reality as normal. In this sense, to charge that Zimbabwe is in a crisis is to make a political assertion. But the Christian political response to the Zimbabwean situation should be one that is informed by Gospel values and the social teachings of the church. Christians, look at politics not in terms of narrow party political interests, but in terms of the demands of the common good and human social solidarity. The politics of Christians is one that works to transform society in the interest of the dignity of human life and the rest of God’s creation.

Battle for Naming and of Definitions

Christian politics announces the good news. It denounces oppression, injustice, and everything that undermines peace. In Zimbabwe, the battle for naming or for defining reality has been one of the most important responsibilities for Christians. Those in political power have been aggressive in this war. The former Minister for Information in the President’s Office, Professor Jonathan Moyo raised the battle for definitions to high levels. He influenced many to think in certain harmful ways. He, for example, influenced many to think that the church should get its mandated from the government – that the church should seek permission from the government, on issues of justice and peace – and that issues of justice and peace are outside the legitimate mandate of the church. Yet a cursory look at history shows that Christians have a history and mandate of involvement in wider politics that goes beyond Zimbabwe. When the Encyclical Rerum Novarum was being written, and asking Christians to recognize the different roles of the government, of labour, and capital, Zimbabwe did not exist yet. In fact, historically, as Hegel demonstrates, the state is an instrument for the realization of God’s will. It therefore must fulfill the principles and values that are consistent with justice and peace. Christians who understand this will actively participate in this battle for definitions with a view to correcting the politically misleading definitions that dominate our country today. So, as we reflect on this role of Catholic institutions in the promotion of justice and peace, we need to be clear on what it is that we, as Christians, need to respond to in Zimbabwe today.

Response to what?

The Zimbabwe crisis is a spiritual/moral crisis which has led us into social, economic, political, cultural crises. This is the Christian was of interpreting the situation in Zimbabwe. When we interpret it this way, it becomes clear how the church and church institutions are legitimately at the center

2. The meaning of spiritual/moral crisis

What I mean by moral or spiritual is how we look at ourselves, at fellow humans, the environment and the role of the Creator. It is about what we think (intellectual) and how we feel (emotional). It is about our emotional intelligence and lack the of it. Our spirituality/morality will inform us about how we should organize our economic, political, social and cultural structures, institutions, systems and processes.

Therefore, spirituality is about the moral/ethical foundations of our society i.e. it is about the values, principles and virtues that must be in place in order that other activities and arrangements take place. Values are those things we value as important for us. Our virtues, either at an individual or institutional level are those moral qualities that must be cultivated by us in order to express our values. The principles are the rules that we make in order to capture the values. The principles are meant to guide us follow a life that realizes the values.

Our spirituality is the cement of our universe - the glue that brings the society together and informs it about how it ought to organize itself and how to treat its citizens. It guides how to produce and distribute social goods.

3. The Zimbabwe Crisis

The Zimbabwe crisis is at least seen on three levels; i.e.

(i) The undermining of the sense of common good, social solidarity and dignity of the human person. This undermining occurs at the level of virtues, structural and process levels.

-Virtues (personal and institutional) 
-Processes (democracy)

Thus the sense of common good has disappeared from our ways of thinking about and treating each other and from our ways of treating rest of creation. This crisis leads to the second crisis of undermining social justice.

(ii) Undermining of social justice
-Privatization of state structures and processes 
-Greed/selfishness ?corruption, oppression

(iii) Undermining of Peace (Peace is not merely the absence of war)
-Social wars caused by social inequalities, tribalism, racism, sexism
(iv) Crisis in our response

a. Fire fighting
Gukurahundi / Murambatsvina / NGO Bill / Education Bill

b. We are paralyzed by Wealth + Poverty

c. Tendency to look for criminals, saboteurs, thieves. As in Gono’s monetary Policies

This negative spirituality can also be seen in the ways we used to greet each other. In the 1980s, the greetings sounded more positive than the ways we respond today. When greeted in local lingo, the most popular answer are as follows;

Greeting answers in 1980s Greeting Answers after 2000
"Ndiri boo" - (I’m fine)                    Ndongo kiyakiya – (I get by) 
“Ndiri kenge” – (I’m fine)                Hapana iripo - (There is nothing) 
Ndiri gadaga” – (I’m fine)                Kujingilisha – (I’m chasing life like a child)

Appropriate Response

The appropriate Christian response should made by us as individuals but also institutionally as the church. This response should address the negative spirituality that dominates us especially the loss of a sense of the common good. The response should also be in form of social action that denounces and announces. We denounce by condemning and dismantling structures of sin. We announce as we help to build structures and processes that respect the dignity of human beings and the rest of creation.

Social Teaching is the fruit of social praxis

Fr Vic Massien of the Tanzania Episcopal Conference has this to say about the historical development in the SCT,

-Teachings were the outcome of social action and involvement of individuals and groups within and outside the church.

-These individuals and groups “pushed”, the church community and its leaders to become aware of the social issues – imagine, in the light of this, if the guilds of Hosi yeDenga, Mbuya Anna, St Joseph, Agness and Alois were to be transformed by their gravitation towards more social and political consciousness.
Looking at the church structures, Fr. Vic reflected on their role and asserted the following;

Church Structures

-The Bishop is the first teacher of the faith, in the Diocese (what materials/experiences are the bishops using) 
-The Bishops’ Conference is a potentially powerful body of colleagues who come together to share ideas and organize in the context of the nation. --What contributions are we as individuals and our commissions making to inform the bishops? 
-Priests serve the church by preaching the social Gospel – condemning the denial of dignity and affirming/announcing life/growth + fulfillment. They should encourage the laity to use their talents in the work of Justice and Peace OR THEY SHOULD BE PUSHED TO DO SO. 
-Religious men and women act as prophetic examples of how the STC should be practiced – as they follow their different charisms e.g. Jesuits, Dominicans, Redemptorists, etc. 
-The laity, by virtue of (1) baptism and (2) their being directly involved in the organization and life of society can directly implement the STC. Through their competence and professional capabilities the laity complete the STC on creation of lay associations like in Zambia and Tanzania. collaboration with other churches collaboration with other churches Joint programs Collaboration with SCOs occupying already existing space i.e. Using organizational structures, processes already available e.g. CCJP e.g. Parliamentary Liaison Office e.g. Radio Dialogue Creating new spaces to operate in by being pro-active e.g. 
-Research and Publication 
-Catholic University 
-Social Charter “The Zimbabwe we want” equivalent of South Africa’s “Freedom Charter” Collaboration with international partners 
the right to social solidarity. The government understands the power of solidarity ? hence its desire to delegitimize cooperation between people.


We are in a crisis. The response will take a multi-sectorial, multi-strategic approach. Many of us will be in tension with one another – - let there be creative tensions. But what-ever we do we should always be guided by the values of the Gospel.