Dialogue only viable way forward — ZCC

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ZIMBABWE is currently facing its worst economic crisis in a decade, characterised by fuel and electricity shortages, hyperinflation, catastrophe in the public health sector and price hikes of basic goods and services.

The crisis is also being exacerbated by years of poor rainfall due to the effects of climate change with over eight million Zimbabweans now facing starvation.

Many have proffered solutions to the country’s problems and one of the institutions which has been vocal about how an inclusive national dialogue can help solve these challenges is the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC).

The ZCC’s views have been welcomed in some sectors while in others they have attracted criticism.

The Daily News on Sunday reporter Sindiso Mhlophe sat down with the ZCC’s secretary-general reverend Kenneth Mtata to discuss these issues.

Below are the excerpts.

Q: Can you briefly tell us about the ZCC and what it does?

A: ZCC is a platform or fellowship of churches which believe in the lordship of Jesus Christ. They also believe that Jesus Christ prayed for the unity of the church and that’s why they work together.

Apart from this, these churches also believe they have a social responsibility that they must contribute to the full realisation of life according to John 10 vs 10 where Jesus said that I came so that they may have life in abundance.

So, these churches work together for the realisation of the fullness of life.

In our situation, they see this life manifesting itself where the nation is united, just and is prospering together. This is the fullness of life as viewed by the church.

Q: What would you say is the role of the church in socio-economic and political issues in the country?

A: I think you can look at it from a biblical perspective. Jesus once told a story of a man who was coming from Jerusalem going to Jericho and he was attacked by robbers. A Samaritan passing by saw him and helped him.

Jesus then asked a question to his disciples about who was the neighbour to the attacked man and all of the disciples said it was the Samaritan who helped him because his fellow men had left him for dead.

In light of this, the first role of the church is to make sure that it addresses the situation of people’s vulnerability.

So, if the church finds that people are hungry, the church must contribute to ensure that people are given food.

If the church finds that people are fighting then its role is to reconcile them. This is the first task of the church to respond to the needs of the people.

The church also has a responsibility to finding long term solutions.

Some problems cannot be solved at a humanitarian level they need to be solved at the root causes and that is why the ZCC is getting involved in these processes.

But when the church gets involved, it does not substitute the role of politicians.

It holds politicians accountable so that they do their work well.

Emerson Mnangagwa, President of Zimbabwe

Of course, some politicians don’t want to be held accountable and, therefore, they will accuse the church of meddling into politics.

But it is the duty of the church to make sure that it holds politicians accountable and to activate citizens to take their role in the public space.

Q: On the issue of churches meddling in politics, the ZCC has been accused of being in support of opposition politics. What is your response to these accusations?

A: Those are accusations which come from different political parties. We have been accused of being aligned to one political party or another when we took certain positions.

This is not new because sometimes some political parties want you to show that you are supporting them.

The church does not support any political party and the church should not support any political party.

The church can support what political parties are doing or saying, but that does not mean they support those political parties.

If anyone confuses our support for justice, our support for helping in communities, our support of finding home grown solutions with supporting a political party, then they are misunderstanding what we are doing as the church because we support what is being said and done and not necessarily who is saying it or doing it.

Nelson Chamisa, MDC A leader

There must be a distinction. It is not the duty of the church to support political parties, but to support all programmes which contribute to the full wellbeing of the people in Zimbabwe.

Q: You mentioned some problems cannot be solved without addressing the root cause, what would you say are the root causes of the problems we are facing as a nation?

A: I think there are many root causes and some of them have a long history, dating back even to colonial times. I will talk about the three major underlying causes of our problems.

The first one is that we have not found a way to have a mutually acceptable way of bringing closure to what happened in the past.

The past is still a contested past and there are people who are hurt about what happened in the past.

Actually there are people who were killed in the past and their relatives feel angry, that there has not been closure and they want to find closure about the past.

So, one of the main root causes we are facing is that we have not found a way of bringing mutually acceptable closure to that past.

The second problem is that we have not yet found a way to mutually agree on how we entrench constitutional democracy in Zimbabwe.

There are different views on how democracy should be entrenched, but as a nation we cannot move forward if we do not find consensus on what kind of constitutional democracy we want.

If we cannot find a way for example between how competing political parties can work together then we cannot move forward as a nation.

So far we do not have a working mechanism for political parties to work together. Before they go for elections they are fighting each other, after elections they continue fighting each other. So they never work together for the wellbeing of Zimbabwe.

So, the question is how do we find a new political culture in which the Constitution is respected, and also where the political actors can work together for the common good?

The third route cause of our problems which affects many other things is that we have not yet established an inclusive economic culture in which every Zimbabwean feels included.

This creates exclusive economies, cartel economies, economies of patronage and corruption.

All these economies do not benefit Zimbabweans, they only benefit a few individuals.

If we are going to move on as a nation, we need to uproot these kinds of economies and build inclusive economics.

Q: What other solutions would you suggest for these problems?

A: We have proposed in our work that we need to have a conversation around this, a conversation that will produce a national economic blueprint or a national economic vision.

The vision must also have a way of helping us to close any openings for such illegal practices. It must be something that is built on consensus, that is through everyone making a contribution.

If we do it together then we can empower law enforcement to deal with all the illegal processes. This is what we have proposed could be one way of solving the economic exclusiveness.

We are also suggesting a consensus model which will enable inclusive dialogue.

Consensus requires an initial deposit of humility from the parties involved and demands exchange of ideas, trust and confidence.

This model is based on where we want to go as a nation and how we want to go there.

This is what has been influencing how we think as the ZCC and we think this can happen at three levels, at grassroots level, at an organised society level where you have civil society players and the political and policy level where we believe political actors must provide a consensus environment which allows cooperation.

This is what we are also going to be pursuing because we believe that in order for Zimbabwe to move forward because we need to have that inclusive dialogue.

Q: The Zimbabwe Heads of Christians Denominations, which the ZCC is also a member of, made a-seven year elections sabbatical call as a solution to the country’s problems, what inspired this line of thinking?

A: The ZHOCD had observed that the nation was going through difficulties. These difficulties required a long time to work on and in order to work on these challenges together, Zimbabweans needed to be out of mode of political competition.

It was, therefore, proposed that the only way to come out of this political competition is when we can build an election free zone or an election free period where we go through all the transformation and transition needed and build a new culture of tolerance until we are ready to get into competitive politics again.

 

So, this was the basis of our call and many people reacted that it was unconstitutional even though in that call we had made it clear that if this is accepted then we would go for a referendum and through this referendum, we were certain that the desires of the people would be met.

 

We still believe today that if we carry out  a referendum and ask people if they want elections in 2023, I can tell you that an overwhelming majority will say we don’t want elections in 2023 because they know elections do not produce anything meaningful.

 

What elections do is; they extend the divisions that we already have.

Q: What is the way forward given that the sabbatical call was not accepted by the main political actors?

A: We are glad that the main political leaders did not immediately accept the call because it would have affected our broader vision.

This gave us an opportunity to look at the depth of our national problems and fragmentation.

We do not have a shared understanding of how the future should be like as Zimbabweans so a simple handshake between political actors will not solve the problem.

We have done this in the past, but it has not yielded any tangible results. So, this can be delayed until we are ready to have an inclusive dialogue.

We look forward to a day when citizens will say they are no longer interested in political actors who are pursuing personal power interests at the expense of the wellbeing of Zimbabweans.

When we get to that level and unite then dialogue will take place and there is no politician who will thrive using division.

Q: The ZCC was also part of the launch of the National Convergence Platform, how will this platform help in addressing the country’s problems?

A: The National Convergence Platform is a platform of the apex bodies of civil society organisations and professional bodies.

It seeks to harness the weight of these civil society actors that are close to the national questions.

In other words, it seeks to be the body representative of what the different civic society actors are saying as well as serving as an instrument to engage other actors locally, regionally and internationally.

It was launched on the 13th of December 2019 and on the 10th of February (tomorrow) it will be formally constituted and all the positions will be filled and it is going to be operational.

Q: What would you say are the challenges you have encountered in your work?

A: I’m keen to not only look at the impediments, but the successes.

There is one success that many people may not realise that for the last 24 months the word dialogue has become an important word in Zimbabwe.

People derive different meanings from it, but we are glad that people talk about it.

We believe this is a success as people now think that dialogue must be one of the solutions for Zimbabwe.

There are impediments as there are people who benefit from the crisis in Zimbabwe. These people will always fight any possibility of a solution.

Some people think that these people are in Zanu PF, no they are in both political parties.

There are people in Zanu PF who believe that Zanu PF must be the only one which determines where we are going as a nation and for them any solution that involves anyone else is unacceptable.

For some of these, the current chaos is an opportunity for self-enrichment.

We have similar people in the MDC who feel that the party is entitled to run this country because it is the party that has been championing democracy and for them Zanu PF does not feature in the future.

These positions are going to be difficult for us to deal with because whether we like it or not the future will involve MDC and Zanu PF.

They may be fragmented but there will be some kind of Zanu PF and MDC in the future.

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