Zimbabwe’s Roman Catholic bishops have told Harare that it must stop alleged state-sponsored harassment of the opposition before meaningful dialogue can take place.
In their statement posted on church bulletin boards on Easter, the nine bishops also warned President Robert Mugabe, a Catholic who attends mass regularly, he could face a mass uprising by the increasingly restive population. "The reasons for the anger are many, among them bad governance and corruption," they said.
In the no-holds-barred pastoral letter circulated to Zimbawean Catholics, the bishops stated that “Zimbabweans are angry, and their anger is erupting into open rebellion.” The prelates called for a national day of prayer on Saturday, April 14.
The pastoral letter, entitled, “God Hears The Cries of the Oppressed,” deplored what it said were “state arrests, detentions, banning orders, beatings and torture, and vote rigging,” calling on Harare to draft a constitution that meets people's needs. The letter was distributed nationwide, including rural areas dominated by the ruling party.
Adding weight to the statement, Pope Benedict XVI in his Easter address in St. Peter's Square singled out Zimbabwe, saying the country is "in the grip of a grievous crisis and for this reason the bishops of that country in a recent document indicated prayer and a shared commitment for the common good as the only way forward."
Leaders of the Southern African Development Community asked South African President Thabo Mbeki late last month to mediate in Zimbabwe's crisis. He has been working to bring the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition to the negotiating table - but since the SADC summit Harare has been cracking down on the opposition.
Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the opposition is to blame for the intensifying crisis.
But the Catholic bishops placed the blame squarely on the Mugabe government.
Father Oskar Wermter of the Catholic Communications Secretariat in Harare said that the crackdown must stop if a dialogue is to begin.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...