Zimbabwe: Bulawayo churches open doors to victims of violence and torture

 Churches in Bulawayo (CIB), on Friday released a statement through aid agency Tearfund calling for action in response to confirmed reports of widespread torture, beatings and harassment of community members by Zanu PF militias. CIB confirmed that its member churches would be immediately opening its doors so as to shelter the victims of harassment. They are also calling on the government to release the Presidential results immediately and for increased international efforts to resolve the crisis before the situation degenerates into a bloodbath,. Since the elections, property has been destroyed and seized. Communities have been threatened with further violence if they fail to vote for Robert Mugabe should a run off ballot take place. While the South African Development Committee (SADC) leaders have called for release of the presidential results, they consistently avoid open criticism of Mugabe. And while President Mbeki has claimed that there is no crisis, in Zimbabwe, Tearfund partner organisations are reporting something quite different. "Talk of a run off is frightening as people are still waiting for the result of the Presidential elections, said Pastor Promise Manceda of Zimbabwe's Christian Alliance - who explains that a simple tally of polling station votes would quickly yield the results. "Worse still in the outskirts of Bulawayo, militia are reported to be undergoing intense training. Such a heavy presence and involvement of the military is having a traumatic affect on the population." Tearfund,' partners have reported violence in rural areas, particularly in those areas scheduled for a recount. We have heard that a regional meeting had to be cancelled because staff members are too afraid to leave their families. Fear and confusion are spreading across the country in this vacuum of uncertainty and threat,, says Karyn Beattie, Tearfund,s Disaster Response Manager for Zimbabwe. We are very concerned for the safety of people, those just simply trying to exist although there is nothing simple about existing in a country in collapse. There is increasing concern for church leaders and staff of civil society groups, who have courageously spoken out, demanding a democratic and peaceful transition. Tearfund has called on on SADC, the African Union and UN to intervene and ensure that the results of the elections are not falsified and that the democratic right of the people of Zimbabwe to choose their leaders is respected. Tearfund is sustaining a feeding programme through local churches to support some 35,000 people - orphans and vulnerable families although the current situation is hindering logistic movements. Food, water and nearly all basic necessities have become all but unavailable to the vast majority. The full text from the Churches in Bulawayo follows: We as the church in Bulawayo and the surrounding districts are concerned about the current socio-political developments in our beloved country. In particular we are concerned that three weeks after elections, the Presidential Election Results have not been released. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has failed to communicate to Zimbabweans the reason for the delay in releasing the results. The ZEC has been made to prioritise the recounting of votes instead of releasing the outstanding Presidential Elections Results. Like many Zimbabweans we are asking why ZEC went on to do a recount in constituencies where queries were not made within the stipulated 48 hours. This is required by the electoral law and throws doubts over the ZEC,s independence. Through the church network we have now received confirmed reports of intimidations, harassment, beatings and torture of vulnerable fellow citizens in the rural areas. Churches will now be faced with the challenges of counseling traumatized and internally displaced Zimbabweans. It is a cause of great concern that one church in the Inyathi area that falls under the Bubi / Umguza constituency has been forced to close. This is an infringement of our constitutional right of freedom of worship. A Christian leader in the area is currently hospitalized as he was traumatized by the threats and accusations. We are also getting reports of mobilization and preparation for organized violence by some militia against people in the rural areas as a form of retribution for choosing candidates of their own choice during the recent elections and also as an attempt to influence them to vote in a particular way in the event of a run-off. In the midst of these challenges: We call upon Christians everywhere especially in the neighboring countries to pray for the people of Zimbabwe as they go through these traumatic times and to put pressure on their governments concerning the urgent need for SADC to intervene. We call upon ZEC to immediately release the Presidential Results. The churches wish to register gratitude to the growing crescendo of voices in SADC and indeed acknowledge that the UN Secretary General has added weight to these voices seeking resolutions to the Zimbabwean impasse. We urge intensification of these voices and pray that a resolution is reached without the situation degenerating into a blood bath. As churches we have agreed that churches in Bulawayo immediately open their doors so as to shelter the victims of torture and harassment who will be in need of shelter, counseling, and medical treatment. Source: Tearffund/CIB

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