Zimbabwe: Archbishop Ncube answers critics

 The state-controlled Herald newspaper launched a blistering attack on Bulawayo Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube last week and called for his excommunication from the Church. The Archbishop has for years been on the receiving end of threats, both verbal and physical, because of his outspoken condemnation of the ZANU PF regime. A lengthy opinion piece by Tichaendepi Chuma read: "The recent utterances through Short Wave Radio Africa by Roman Catholic Church Archbishop for Bulawayo Diocese, Pius Ncube, urging the international community, South Africa in particular, to exert more pressure on Zimbabwe to carry out political reforms, should be seen as views from a demented clergyman who has not only become dangerous to himself but to the institution of the Church as well." The Archbishop responded to these comments by saying: "If they think I am demented I am ready to go with them to a psychiatrist and they should be careful because it is they themselves who are demented with the way they are treating Zimbabwe." The Herald article went further to say: "the notorious Roman Catholic clergyman" had a terrible neurotic resentment of ZANU PF and urged the Roman Catholic Church to realise that by continuing to keep Ncube within its ranks it is destroying its credibility at least in the country, if not in the region. The head of the Catholic Church in South Africa, Cardinal Wilfred Napier, said there is very little sanity in the Herald report and merely shows the angry thoughts of a journalist who does not understand what kind of penalty excommunication is. Napier explained: "It is an ecclesiastical sanction and it's imposed for serious breaches of church law. As far as I know Archbishop Pius Ncube hasn't broken any church law and in June last year he was in Rome visiting the Pope and never received any negative comments from that end." Speaking on the programme Hot Seat, Ncube said there is no way he can be excommunicated. He said the Mugabe regime has caused untold suffering and he has the backing of the Pope in his condemnation of the lawlessness going on in Zimbabwe. He said: "The Catholic Church, the world over, knows that I am standing up for human rights to defend the lives of the people." According to the Herald, the cleric committed "the gravest sins coming from a man of collar by praying for President Mugabe to die," and then added: "The Roman Catholic Church did not say a word to tame this theological demagogue and megalomaniac! Surely the Church must stand ashamed." When asked about this issue Ncube said he believes there is nothing wrong with what he said because more people are suffering and dying because of obert Mugabe's oppression. Mugabe has in the past refused to talk to the opposition and international community about the crisis in the country. Ncube said: "I am saying that in view of this the people have a right to pray to God to relieve us of this man, just in the same way the Israelites were praying for God to conquer Pharaoh. So we pray that God may conquer this evil man who is causing so much suffering to our people here. We don't force God. It's up to Him." Archbishop Pius spoke passionately on how people are swamping his church looking for help. He said: "How many children and how many old people are dying from starvation? How many people are crying in my office here saying father we haven't eaten for three days, for four days?" Parishioners come and ask: "Father can you pay for our school fees? Father can you pay rent for us?" The Archbishop said: "I am at the end of my wits. I just don't know how to help these people. I just don't have the money. How much suffering is there in this country? Only God knows. Therefore if we say that we pray that he may go in peace it's not wrong." When asked if he thought Archbishop Pius Ncube had gone too far by praying for the end of Robert Mugabe, Cardinal Napier said he believed what the archbishop prayed for was Mugabe's downfall. The Cardinal said: "And so did we here in South Africa pray for the downfall of those who were perpetrating apartheid and I think we have the scripture, we have the church teachings on our side, that we must pray for relief. That the poor are treated justly and those who are committing the injustice should be removed." He emphasised that it is up to God to deal with Mugabe in the way His justice dictates. Cardinal Napier, who visited Zimbabwe after the township demolitions, which left thousands homeless, said at the time, that the victims of Operation Murambatsvina were living in "sub-human conditions." He said the South African Churches had set up meetings with President Thabo Mbeki urging him to intervene. The church raised issues of targeted sanctions that would affect individuals in Mugabe's government more than they'd affect the masses. Cardinal Napier said the main problem is that in Zimbabwe, the churches and civil society are not united enough to actually make a stand and make the world take notice. He also observed that one of the major problems with civil society in Zimbabwe is that they have little room to manoeuvre because of state sponsored repression. Cardinal Napier said: "If we didn't have people like Archbishop Pius Ncube we wouldn't know what is happening in Zimbabwe." Many thanks to Violet Gonda, a Producer/Presenter, at SW Radio Africa, for giving us permission to publish her article. Hear her programmes at: www.swradioafrica.com

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