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Thursday, December 8, 2016
Text: South African Churches report on Zimbabwe
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 The South African Council of Churches yesterday issued the following statement on the findings of their pastoral visit to Zimbabwe. 1. INTRODUCTION 1.1. Pastoral Mission A delegation of South African Church Leaders, accompanied by a representative of the All Africa Conference of Churches, paid a pastoral visit to Zimbabwe on 10-11 July. Archbishop Ndungane, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, and Professor Russel Botman, President of the SACC, led the SACC delegation. The pastoral visit was facilitated and hosted by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC). The purpose of the visit was to provide pastoral solidarity to the communities affected by the recent "Operation Murambatsvina", described by the Zimbabwe government as "Operation restore order" and the churches ministering to them. The delegation visited the Caledonia 'Transit' Camp, where displaced people have been relocated to, and visited the Mbare Township from where some of the displaced people originate. The delegation met with the Zimbabwean Church leadership, (representing the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe and the Catholic Church). They were also briefed by Zimbabwe civil society organisations, including the Zimbabwe Confederation of Trade Unions. 1.2 Observations at Caledonia Transit Camp The camp is located approximately 30 kilometres to the South East of Harare in the Ruwa area. The place of relocation previously served as a farm. There are no facilities' on or adjacent to the camp, other then an old farm house. The displaced people informed the delegation that they were given 30 minutes to pack their possessions after which they were loaded on trucks and dumped in the Caledonia Transit camp. The only existing shelters are plastic sheets supported by pieces of wood. The displaced persons themselves erected these inhabitable shelters. Government made little effort to provide any services other than the members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police who are managing the camp. Churches and particularly Christian Care (the service arm of ZCC) provides blankets, a few tents and food to the 4890 displaced persons. UNICEF provides water. Those displaced to Caledonia camp were told that they would be there only for five days. By the time the delegation visited the camp they had been there for a month, and were unsure of when they would move to an improved situation. The displaced are living under inhuman conditions. Scores of children, young people and unemployed parents and grandparents have to eek out a measly existence on rations supplied by foreign and local NGOs and Churches. 260 children are registered at a crèche set up in the camp. On the day that the delegation visited only 30 children turned up and because it was cloudy and cold they played inside of a building that had no room windows or a door. Street people and informal vendors are the main victims of the Operation. A considerable number are born in Zimbabwe with parents from neighbouring countries. Displaced people are, on the whole, income earners who had been supporting their families and sending their children to school. Taking away their economic productivity and reducing them to living on relief supplies has stifled their creativity. A large number of teenage mothers were seen in the camp nursing their children. 1.3 Observations at Mbare Township A shocking site greeted the delegation on entering Mbare Township. Almost every yard was filled with rubble from the demolition of structures. A considerable number of people who have been living in Mbare for many decades had their homes and informal business structures destroyed as part of "Operation Clean-up". Extensions were made to houses to support the extended family and in some instances to supplement old age pensions. These extensions were broken down. The affected people sought shelter with families and friends or ended up in the transit camps. The delegation witnessed the desperate poverty of the people in Mbare Township. On visiting a Catholic Church in the township the delegation was greeted by long queues of people waiting to collect their monthly food rations. This is illustrating a looming hunger crisis in Harare. 2. STATEMENT OF THE DELEGATION There comes a time when human suffering is indescribable. What we have seen is a small portion of the human suffering playing itself out in the townships of Harare. At such times the Christian Church and community is challenged to speak the truth in an uncompromising manner. Such times demand unity of purpose amongst churches. The cries of the affected people must be heard and seen, and the credibility of the Gospel cannot be compromised. The dignity of people who are created in the image of God must be affirmed. In this instance the affected people are the already vulnerable: self-employed, under- employed and unemployed, taking care of dependant minor children, youth and grandparents. Within no time these people have become victims of a political and economic system. Their humanity has been denied and their remaining dignity trampled upon. Their efforts to survive through informal trading have been criminalized. Many of the informal vendors were laid off from employment in the formal sector and started income generation projects. We salute the churches in Zimbabwe for the commendable interventions they continue to make. While we continue to uphold them in prayers, we recognise that they need our practical support in resolving the causes of the problems. The church cannot sit by idly when leaders treat their people worse than animals. The situation is worsened when efforts at service delivery are restricted by political objectives. The Church of Christ cannot afford to be a silent observer when poverty and homelessness is meticulously implemented. There are sinister motives informing government action where the broad populaces are affected in townships and cities and growth points. The pain and hurt is visible in the eyes of children and the despair of parents fuel their loss of dignity. Such observations are dominant in the camps where the relocated have been dumped. The limited chances to sustain a livelihood have been taken away from the relocated families. "Operation Restore Order" fuels serious shortages of food, and a humanitarian crisis last seen in Zimbabwe during the liberation struggle. Young people who could be agents of change may become catalyst for conflict as they are exposed to the hopelessness of their parents. Because of the stress, trauma and lack of proper nutrition, mothers are unable to breast-feed their babies. Fathers who are denied the opportunity to support their families are loitering in transit camps, consumed by boredom and despair. The deplorable health conditions have also compromised the battle against HIV and Aids and other infectious diseases. All of this happens due to a lack of economic planning by the government. If there is any planning it is poor and inconsiderate of the people that government is meant to serve and take care of. The affected people should have been provided with alternatives that are sustainable and humane. Instead informal business people are sacrificed for the formal economy. These people are removed from opportunities to earn a living and driven to the periphery of society. This deliberate destruction of the informal economy, which is meant to cater for economically vulnerable groups, is unparalleled in modern day Africa. The displaced are told that they must return to their rural homes. Most of these people moved to the main centres of business driven by poverty and a need to earn a living. Forcing them to return to rural areas where there are water shortages, high levels of unemployment and skills shortages is no solution. Such action is inconsiderate of its consequences and the affected people. The next harvest will only happen in eight months. Making victims of the poor and criminalizing their efforts for survival will not resolve the political and economic problems of Zimbabwe. The timing of the operation is when the Zimbabwean economy is at its worst and in the heart of winter. It is good for 'Law and Order' to be maintained, but like the Zimbabwean Church leaders, we have a problem with the manner and methods that are inhuman. Local government and authorities are not involved in the provision of services to the relocated people. The Zim $ 3 trillion that government offers will only be able to build 3 000 (three thousand) houses. Zimbabwean churches and other service providers are placed in an invidious position. Through their humanitarian assistance they could be considered to be complicit in the suffering of the affected communities. While churches do not condone the actions of government they are obliged to provide support to the displaced people. Consistent efforts to meet with government failed to yield any results. Churches are concerned that such transit arrangements tend to become permanent. There is no rationale for Zimbabweans to be internally displaced, except for the fact that people are economically driven. The delegation encourages leaders in Southern Africa to consider the threat of economic displacement in the economic models they pursue. What was experienced by the delegation was a situation seen in Somalia. In the case of Somalia the reasons for the devastation of the livelihood of the poor was due to natural causes. However in the case of Zimbabwe the sad situation of the destruction of livelihood and family life is due to the orchestration of a government which cannot recognise that it has dumped its people into another crisis from which they will have difficulty returning. 3. THE WAY FORWARD The delegation having had the experience of seeing the devastating poverty and turmoil in the lives of those cruelly and inhumanly displaced by the Zimbabwean government are convinced that tangible and sustainable efforts need to be put in place to save Zimbabwe's poor from complete destruction. We hereby offer the following proposals for consideration by the SACC Central Committee: 1. For the SACC to plan and execute a National Campaign of Relief 2. To organise a solidarity letter campaign 3. To organise a prayer campaign focusing on the plight of the Zimbabwean people 4. Organise a civil disobedience campaign. Members of the delegation: Prof Russel Botman (President of the South African Council of Churches) Cardinal Wilfred Napier (Catholic Archbishop of Durban and President of SA Catholic Bishop's Conference) Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane (Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town) Pastor Ray McCauley (President of International Fellowship of Christian Churches) Archbishop Njeru Wambugu (All Africa Conference of Churches) Bishop Ivan Abrahams (Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in Southern Africa and Chair of Church leaders Forum) Dr Coenie Burger (Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church and member of SACC NEC) Father Matt Esau (Anglican Church of Southern Africa) Mr Eddie Makue (Deputy General Secretary of the SACC) Rev Ron Steele (Rhema Church) Mr Paul Graham (IDASA) Mr Paul Nantulya (Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR)
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