South African churches condemn government policy on Zimbabwe

 Following South African president Thabo Mbeki's visit to Harare last week, church leaders have slammed the government's softly-softly stance on human rights abuses in Zimbabwe - which they likened to regimes of apartheid hardliners such as BJ Vorster and PW Botha, Brett Horner reported in the Sunday Tribune yesterday. In an unprecedented show of unity, Johannesburg-based church leaders - from Anglican and Catholic to Dutch Reformed and Greek Orthodox - issued a statement on Saturday night condemning Mbeki's policy on Zimbabwe. They said: "We are appalled by the witness given to us concerning the extent of torture being meted out on Zimbabwean citizens who flee to this country for nothing less than fear of death." During Mbeki's visit to Zimbabwe, he said South Africa "could learn" from its beleaguered northern neighbour on how to solve similar problems - a statement which sparked a regional and international outcry. The church leaders said: "We cannot and will not remain silent any longer. To do so would be to be unfaithful to, and discredit the history of our own transformation. We are confused by the constant call for moral regeneration within our own country, by leaders who appear to defend or overlook moral corruption in neighbouring states. We have heard accounts of people having red-hot needles pushed under their armpits and through their shoulder blades and frequent electrifying of fingers, soles of feet and genitals. Legs have been broken." Earlier in the week Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: "What has been reported as happening in Zimbabwe is totally unacceptable and reprehensible and we ought to say so." Lutheran Bishop of Gautang Ndanga Phaswana who visited Zimbabwe in August said: "The violation of human rights in Zimbabwe makes a mockery of democracy in South Africa, especially if we keep quiet and say we are not involved." Describing the situation as "appalling" he said: "Many people are going to bed on a drink of water and no food. You can touch the intensity of fear in people who are regarded as political opponents to Mugabe." He said: "If you talk to ordinary Zimbabweans they will tell you that if South Africa can tell Mugabe to stop what he is doing, he will. Quiet diplomacy is viewed by oppressed Zimbabweans as a sign of South Africa's support." He said the most important thing Mbeki could do to restore order to the beleaguered country is publicly reprimand Mugabe. "If that doesn't work, South Africa should go the Commonwealth way and impose economic sanctions." Methodist bishop, Paul Verryn, said: "We cannot keep quiet anymore. It is good that we are now speaking out." Verryn has personally counselled many refugees and seen the effects of brutality, like genital mutilation, carried out by Mugabe's regime. "I cannot understand how a government that received asylum in the worst possible times during apartheid can ignore what is going on. They are doing nothing for Zimbabweans in our country. In fact, they are making it worse," he said.

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