Zimbabwe: Mugabe pledges support for church

 Fr Mathibela Sebothoma, Southern African Bishops Conference "The Church and State must complement one another," said President Robert Mugabe, addressing the 7th Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) held at Chishawasha Seminary, Zimbabwe. "We invite the Church to be part of us." Mugabe assured the Church that the current NGO Bill would not affect the Church but regulate activities of Non-Governmental bodies which serve western interests. "The Church in Zimbabwe will continue to get the support of the government." "We know that early missionaries were given land by Cecil John Rhodes. We did not want to take it back. We want the Church to use it, cultivate crops and feed the children. It is unfortunate that the Church is not utilising the land to its maximum. If you don't use the land, Robert Mugabe and the government will claim it back." "Our Land reform has brought a more equitable land redistribution." He blamed Western media for demonising Zimbabwe for demanding "what belongs to us." He praised John Major and Margaret Thatcher for having attempted to solve the land issue which was derailed by Prime Minister Tony Blair. He told Blair to "keep your money, we will keep our land." Brandishing his Rosary beads, he praised the Church as 'a guiding light of our path. Where differences occur, we must talk like brothers and sisters. The bishops are our grandfathers and priests are our fathers." When asked by Fr Richard Menatsi, SACBC General Secretary, if there were mistakes in the Land Reform Program, he responded that Zimbabwe abandoned the willing-seller/willing-buyer policy in favour of compulsory acquisition of land for resettlement following resistance by the British Labour Party to fund land reform. He said he would not recommend other countries to resort to compulsory acquisition if they could acquire land through the willing-buyer/willing seller policy. He said corruption in the allocation of land is being dealt with. Archbishop Buti Tlhagale asked him why there were so many Zimbabwean refugees in his (Johannesburg) diocese. President Mugabe said Zimbabweans flocked to South Africa in search of jobs since South Africa's economy is bigger. "It's a question of jobs. Some people will say it's a political strife. There are more Mozambicans in South Africa than Zimbabweans. There is no one being persecuted here. Those who go can come back." Speaking about HIV/AIDS, Mugabe said the pandemic had affected his own family. He said: "As I look at my own family, it is young men who are dying of AIDS. Everyday I see new AIDS widows who struggle alone to look after the kids." On the subject of young people, Mugabe said: "Today boys and girls don't come to Church. They have Television and Internet. Freedom of the individual is paramount. Only the partnership between Church and State may help build the character of the individual. The Church can do better in instilling Christian values and morals in society. A good citizen is a good Christian." In her keynote address Sr Aine Hughes said churches in Africa needed to become self sufficient. To realise self-reliance, she said, the Church would need "a community-based, non-clerical priesthood in the parishes in order to come closer to the ideal of what a genuine Christian community should be." This new community must be "self-ministering, self-propagating and self-supporting." President Mugabe said: "Self-reliance does not mean a denial of foreign assistance." He said foreign aid must not be used to destabilise Africa. "The Church must free itself from dependence on Europe. We must encourage our people to rely on themselves." Archbishop Buti Tlhagale was elected President of Imbisa for the next three years. The outgoing president, Bishop Louis Ndlovu of Swaziland reminded Mr Mugabe that the Church will not waiver from its commitment to advocate Justice and Peace in favour of the poor. After the address, Mr Mugabe invited senior Bishops for lunch. Cardinal Wilfrid Napier and Archbishop Pius Ncube were absent.

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