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Lawyers Back Catholic Bishops Accusing Mnangagwa’s Govt of Human Rights Violations

FILE: Lawyers of the Law Society of Zimbabwe bar association take part in a "March for Justice" toward the Constitutional Court in Harare on January 29, 2019, to call for restoration of the rule of law, respect of human rights as well as the country's Constitution. (Photo by Jeke

Several organizations, including the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), have expressed support for Catholic bishops, who are accusing President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government of serious human rights violations.

In a statement, the ZLHR said, “There can be no justification of this vilification of the clergymen and this anti-Catholic scorn because for the Bishops, speaking out against transgressions is their moral obligation.

“As ZLHR, we are greatly concerned that the intolerance of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government on dissent and criticism is becoming more despicable every passing day and we should realise that it is the manifestation of President Mnangagwa’s and his followers’ fear on the people’s legitimate dissatisfaction from a leader who claimed and promised to be a ‘listening’ president which is equally growing. We have noted that in 2020 while the vilifiers and the vilified are different, the script is the same.”

The ZLHR further said, “The incendiary statements by government are aimed at inflicting shame on clergymen and to vilify their struggles that spring from righteous causes.”

“As clergymen, said the ZLHR, the Catholic Bishops must not abdicate “their sacred mandate as shepherds to whom the Lord has entrusted his flock and no amount of vilification, intimidation or threats should make them give up their critical role, especially that of giving voice to the voiceless.

Being Bishops or clergymen does not divest them of their civil and political rights to free speech, because they are still citizens of Zimbabwe and have the inalienable right to speak about the government’s shortcomings.

“ZLHR urges the Catholic Bishops to have faith and take heart as they have long championed people’s rights and freedoms for several decades. To the Catholic Bishops, always bear in mind the biblical verse in 1 Peter 5:8, which reads; ‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’.”

The ZLHR urged the government to “its intemperate and inflammatory statement and urges it to embrace constructive criticism and the principles of good governance.”

In a pastoral letter, Catholic bishops said, “Zimbabwe is in a “a multi-layered crisis of the convergence of economic collapse, deepening poverty, food insecurity, corruption and human rights abuses.

“… Fear runs down the spines of many of our people today. The crackdown on dissent is unprecedented ... Our government automatically labels anyone thinking differently as an enemy of the country: that is an abuse.”

The pastoral letter, signed by ZCBC president Archbishop Charles Ndlovu, Archbishop Alex Thomas (ZCBC deputy president), and bishops Paul Horan (ZCBC secretary and treasurer), Michael Bhasera (Masvingo), Albert Serrano (Hwange), Rudolf Nyandoro (Gokwe) and Raymond Mupandasekwa (Chinhoyi).

Reacting to these sentiments, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa dismissed their remarks, saying they are ill-informed and designed to cause anarchy in Zimbabwe.

Mutsvangwa said, “The Government of Zimbabwe calls upon the Catholic congregation to ignore the specious pastoral letter. Bishop Christopher Ndlovu is leading a coterie of Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops along the wrong path of bygone petty tribalism, narrow regionalism and the debunked and defeated racial antagonism.

“Its evil message reeks with all the vices that have perennially hobbled the progress of Africa. It trumpets petty tribal feuds and narrow regionalist agendas … That he (Archbishop Ndlovu) hopes to sow seeds of internecine strife as a prelude to civil war and national disintegration.”