Zimbabwe: churches defy Mugabe to protest and pray

 Church leaders in Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, achieved a remarkable victory on Saturday, in keeping to their original plan to stage a peaceful protest march and hold public prayers, despite severe intimidation from Mugabe's security forces. Many similar events planned by churches (under the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance) and civic groups in other parts of the country, to commemorate the anniversary of Operation Murambatsvina were called off. But the the pastors leading Churches in Bulawayo, with several hundred church members, decided to go ahead. When the police withdrew permission for the procession, the churches responded with a strong public statement expressing their concern at the about turn which they said they viewed as "an infringement of our freedom of worship". They said: "If police are to ban church services, which are exempt under the Public Order and Security Act, such a development will have serious implications on the Church's right to carry out its God given mandate. Such action serves to clearly demonstrate the desperate position of the regime." The pastors also complained of the repeated interrogation of individual clerics and the intimidating tactics employed when they were all subjected to a two hour harangue by thirty senior security officers who were members of Mugabe's Joint Operations Command, comprising police, army and CIO. Two of their number, Pastors Lucky Moyo and Promise Maneda, were arrested by the police on Tuesday and released later on the same day. It was a sunny morning as the Christian protesters gathered at St Patrick's Church and then walked together into the city in an orderly and peaceful procession. After singing 'Nkosi Sikeleli Africa' the procession moved on to a number of Christian songs, which quickly gained the friendly attention of passers-by. Many police and secret service men lined the route, but the day passed without any confrontation with them. When the procession reached its destination at the Brethren in Christ Church in the city, those taking part settled down outside to listen to speeches, songs and a poem in commemoration of Operation Murambatsvina. The banners proclaimed "Churches in Bulawayo: we still remember." and "Standing in solidarity with the poor." A number of texts were also displayed focusing on the Biblical injunctions to defend the rights of the poor. Fr Danisa Khumalo, a Roman Catholic priest, said: "we shall never forget the smoke that rose from Killarney" (one of the informal settlements razed to the ground by Mugabe's armed security units); "we shall never forget how the churches opened their doors and welcomed the homeless" "we shall never forget the so-called transit camp." "We shall never forget the displaced people are we not all victims?" "Is Zimbabwe a better place because of the so-called clean-up operation?" To read more on the day's events see: www.sokwanele.com

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