Church leaders calling for a seven-year electoral sabbath top address national challenges

Political leaders pressed to address the root causes of Zimbabwe’s national challenges

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The Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHCD) have met the leaders of the two main political parties ZANU (PF) and the MDC and presented them with messages on the need to urgently come up with solutions to address the root causes of Zimbabwe’s national challenges.

Addressing a press  conference in Harare today, Reverend Dr. Kenneth Mtata, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches Secretary General who holds the same position in the ZHCD said in light of the current political paralysis, deepening mistrust and the dehumanising economic decline, the nation will need to take a bold decision to address the root causes of the our national challenges that have a very long history and will not be fully resolved by one entity.

“In this light we are calling the nation to Sabbath on all political contestation for a period of seven years to allow for the rebuilding of trust and confidence, reset our politics and chart a shared way forward towards a comprehensive economic recovery path in a non-competitive political environment. This position builds on the founding vision of the 2006 church discussion document, the Zimbabwe We Want. The position also builds on the proposal from the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations Episcopal Conference at the Large City Hall, Bulawayo of 08- 09 May 2019,”Rev Mtata said.

The leaders hold the view that the idea of the Sabbath is a deep theological theme in the Old and New Testaments of the bible and in Church tradition. It is based on God’s command to his people to set aside the seventh day for a rest. Seven years were also considered as SABBATH years. Seven seven-year sabbaths or forty-nine years constituted what was called the Jubilee season. In this Jubilee season, land would be left fallow so that it could recover its nutrients. Debts would be forgiven. New relationships would be built and God would bless his people.

Since its independence in 1980, Zimbabwe reaches her Jubilee year in 2029. The leaders argued the nation could use the coming period to usher in a true Jubilee for the nation by removing all political contestation from the land and focus the period on healing past wounds, recover the economy, and build a new political culture of cooperation focused on nation-building.

The church leaders averred that the current deteriorating economic crisis which is characterised by systemic corruption, shortages of fuel, prices going out of control and collapse of the health sector needs to be built from the ground with everyone’s support.

“As we are meeting, doctors are on strike and other workers such as teachers are threatening the same as they find it difficult to make ends meet with their current remunerations. According to the ZimVAC figures for 2019, an estimated 7.7 million Zimbabweans are in need of food assistance due to drought. Malnutrition and the interruption of basic services such as health and education may have both immediate and long-term negative impact. When this is combined with high levels of unemployment, stagnant salaries and the loss of buying power of salaries for those who are still employed, one can only conclude that Zimbabwe needs an urgent and holistic solution in which the grassroots, organised society and political and policy sectors should contribute to and own.”

“The current political paralysis and logjam characterised by the failure of the ruling party and the main opposition party to find a workable collaborative model is an issue of great concern. The fact that the two main political parties remain stuck in the post-election mode and will soon embark on a new election mode means that Zimbabwe is unlikely to realise any meaningful engagement between these parties towards a shared constitutional alignment agenda. Without a shared approach to national processes, the efforts by one are undermined by the other, while any positive contribution towards the national good by each is read only within a party-political perspective. We foresee that, whichever political party wins an election, the paralysis will remain, if the opposing parties do not learn how to collaborate. It is the people who will continue to suffer if as a nation we fail to establish some unity in diversity.”

Zimbabwe has not yet undergone healing from the various periods of national hurt. While church leaders recognise the efforts of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, the failure of the nation to fully bring healing and mutually acceptable closure to the long past, immediate past and recent past means that hatred fossilises and the propensity for revenge grows. Casual references to ethnicity as the organising principle for political mobilisation threatens national stability in ways many may not be aware of.

Having looked at these issues in a holistic fashion, the Church leaders have observed that the current environment does not allow for meaningful political reforms nor is it conducive for an inclusive economic participation for ordinary citizens. Such an environment of toxic political relations also renders international re-engagement process futile, which international isolation inhibits investor confidence and slow economic growth. Such a polarised environment weakens respect for national institutions such as the courts, the police and the security sectors. Once such institutions are viewed as partisan and lacking in independence, it becomes impossible to illicit cooperation among the policy and political actors to drive a national reform process in the best interests of the nation.

The Church leaders have also realised that since 2000, election periods have been characterised by violence and paralysing polarisation and have helped to provoke high levels of mistrust. On one hand, the ruling party has blamed the opposition for selective recognition of electoral processes and for celebrating when results go in their favour while crying foul when results go in favour of the incumbents. On the other hand, the opposition has continued to point to gross human rights violations and the skewed political playing field. Different observers and independent commissions have raised the need for a broad-based and comprehensive national dialogue to find lasting solution to these challenges and mutual accusation. What has not been proposed is the environment conducive enough to allow for such transformative national conversation to bring hope. It is such a solution the Church is humbly proposing to the nation.

While all the political bickering is continuing, the basic concern for the ordinary citizen across the political divide is to get on with their personal development. In the current context, the citizens have grown weary from struggling against the never-ending waves of electoral polarisation that undermine their hard work, disrupt community building and erode progress. The danger is that, the more citizens lose confidence in democratic processes such as elections, the more apathetic they will become, and the less representative political offices will become. We must rescue this situation by providing, not yet other piecemeal solutions. What we need is a proper break with the current paralysis and move towards real renewal and transformation.

“It is in this light that the Church leaders are proposing a national seven-year SABBATH period fort he purposes of (a) establishing an emergency recovery mechanism to address the dire national situation, especially for the most vulnerable communities, (b) rebuilding trust and confidence by healing all the hurts of the past, (c) developing a shared national reform agenda to deepen our democracy, (d) establishing a shared and inclusive national economic vision. The SABBATH proposal entails the suspension of the constitutional provision of elections but such a deficiency will be redressed through a national referendum. The national referendum question would seek to ascertain from all Zimbabweans whether they agree with a proposal for a seven-year suspension of all political contestation for the sake of rebuilding trust and confidence by healing to all hurts of the past, sharing and executing a shared constitutional and political national reform agenda, and establishing and implementing a shared national economic vision.”

 




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