The Southern African Bishops’ Conference said on Wednesday that it stands “in unconditional solidarity” with the bishops of Zimbabwe.
The words of support arrive as the government in Zimbabwe ramps up its attack on the country’s bishops, who recently released a pastoral letter criticising the state’s role in “deepening poverty, food insecurity, corruption and human rights abuses”.
In the Zimbabwe government’s most recent attack on the bishops, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the bishops were working to “advance a nefarious agenda for detractors of our country”.
Earlier in the week, government ministers said the bishops were attempting to “manufacture crises” and that their “evil message” could precipitate a “Rwanda-type genocide”.
But the Southern African regional bishops’ conference, which represents the Catholic Church in Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland, praised the “prophetic voice” of the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe.
Released by Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, president of the episcopal conference, the letter said the region’s bishops “continue to note with increasing concern the unabated situation of repression in Zimbabwe, resulting in increasing hardship and suffering to the citizens.”
The letter continued: “We commend you for your prophetic voice in naming and condemning the brutalisation of ordinary people by security forces and the underlying corruption that has led to the total collapse of services to the people by the government.”
The Southern African bishops offered particular support to Archbishop Robert Ndlovu of Harare, after Senator Monica Mutsvangwa made personal attacks against the president of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference during her condemnation of the pastoral letter.
“It is most regrettable that instead of addressing the issues, the Government through its Information Minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, chose instead to target and insult Archbishop Robert Ndlovu as “evil-minded,” projecting its own tribalistic agenda to fuel divisions in the country,” the bishops’ letter said.
Senator Mutsvangwa’s attack on the “genocidal” Archbishop Ndlovu was widely condemned for singling out a person of minority Ndebele ethnic heritage and reopening the wounds of the “Gukurahundi” massacres in the 1980s, when Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union party, which recruited mainly from the majority Shona ethnic group, killed many thousands of Ndebele people in the north.
Also on Wednesday, Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi announced that the government was planning to meet with the Apostolic Nuncio to Zimbabwe, Archbishop Paolo Rudelli, to address the Zimbabwe bishops’ “anti-government and accusatory” letter.
Ziyambi cited a line from the pastoral letter in which the bishops questioned whether “the national leadership that we have has the knowledge, social skill, emotional stability and social orientation to handle the issues we face as a nation.”
The justice minister said this statement “constituted an outright insult to the person of the President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his entire government and is couched in language decidedly unbecoming of an institution such as the Catholic Church.”
Ziyambi continued: “Given that the venerable Bishops represent the Catholic Church, government is compelled to directly engage the Vatican in order to ascertain whether or not such statements reflect the official attitudes of the Holy See towards Zimbabwe’s leadership whether they are merely views from various individuals concerned.”
Zimbabwe is currently in the grip of its worst economic and political crisis for over a decade: inflation has risen above 800 per cent and resultant mass public demonstrations over the government’s financial mismanagement of the economy have been met with a fresh wave of arrests of government critics.