Churches unite to promote peace in Zimbabwe

 South African and Zimbabwean church leaders pledged on Tuesday to play a more active role in trying to defuse tensions between Zimbabwe's political leaders, in the run-up to next year's parliamentary elections - The Johannesburg-based Herald reported. On Monday, seven prominent clergy from both countries formed a task team aimed at encouraging talks between the ruling Zanu PF and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Fr Richard Menatsi, secretary general of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference told the UN news service, IRIN, (Integrated Regional Information Networks): "We are particularly concerned about the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans, and we will pool our resources together to assist those who are in need. But we also realise that unless the political crisis is resolved, much of our efforts will, in the long term, be ineffective." He acknowledged current efforts to get both parties back to the negotiating table, saying: "We hope to assist those who are already working towards a solution to the Zimbabwean crisis, so there is no intention, at the moment, to repeat much of the efforts that are already underway." Since talks between President Robert Mugabe's government and the MDC broke down in April 2002, there have been several attempts by the diplomatic community and the church to re-start them. In July last year Zimbabwe clergymen met with both the MDC and Zanu PF in a bid to resolve the political impasse. To date, the parties have yet to resume a formal dialogue. But Trevor Manhanga, the head of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe told IRIN: "There has been some progress since our meeting. Both sides have presented us with some of their concerns and now we can work towards finding common ground." According to Manhanga, the government had raised concerns over a court challenge to Mugabe's presidential victory in 2002 and the perceived British influence over the MDC. The opposition had called for electoral reform and the scrapping of legislation that undermined a free and fair poll. Menatsi said the current concern of the churches was the ongoing political instability as the country started preparing for parliamentary elections in 2005. Menatsi warned: "It is clear that the upcoming parliamentary elections will not be free and fair as long as the situation is unstable - it doesn't matter who wins the election, because everybody loses in an unstable environment." "We are aware that the army and police are very powerful in Zimbabwe - one of the urgent issues right now is trying to get some assurance that the police and army would remain neutral during the elections," he added. Last month the South African Council of Churches (SACC) wrote an urgent letter to South African President Thabo Mbeki, requesting that a delegation be sent to Harare to help resuscitate talks with the MDC. The SACC called on Mbeki to clarify whether Mugabe was indeed committed to talks with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, after Mbeki had publicly stated he had been personally told by Mugabe that preparations for talks were underway. However, the MDC subsequently denied having had any contact with Zanu PF. Source: ZW News

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