Zimbabwe's church leaders have launched a Southern African regional initiative to pressure President Robert Mugabe and his former ruling ZANU-PF party to implement key reforms ahead of the elections Mr. Mugabe says must be held this year.
Under the umbrella Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations, the church leaders have drafted a report detailing the obstacles to free and fair elections. They intend to present it to justice ministers of the Southern African Development Community.
The church leaders have been to Mozambique to lobby the government for support for their call for reforms in Harare before new elections are held.
The document, entitled “The Role of the Church in Nation Building in Zimbabwe,” says media, electoral and security sector reforms are essential if the country is to hold free, fair and credible elections. The last elections in 2008 were violent and disputed.
The church leaders noted that a new constitution is close to completion and will be submitted to the people in a referendum this year. "After the adoption of the new constitution, we expect political, legislative, electoral, media and security reforms to take place before holding free and fair elections," they said.
The document said Zimbabwe needs a new voters’ roll, and that SADC "needs to explore a more appropriate model of monitoring elections.”
President Mugabe has rejected calls for reform of the security sector and threatened to call elections with or without a new constitution in place.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told the Wall Street Journal this week that the current unity government could be in place for another year.
Reverend Jonah Gokova of the Ecumenical Services of Zimbabwe said the church initiative will help Zimbabweans freely choose leaders.
"We have been waiting for the church to find its voice on the issues that affect the country and we are happy that our leaders in the church have taken a lead in this initiative, we welcome it," Gokova said.
Reverend Useni Sibanda of the Christian Alliance said he hoped that the church leaders would expand their initiative beyond the Southern African region.