Zimbabwe: Uproar over Information Minister’s Incendiary Attack against Roman Catholic Bishops
Zimbabwe’s Information Minister, Monica Mutsvangwa has sparked public ire over a tribally charged attack on Catholic bishops who criticized government crackdown on dissent.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference, in a pastoral letter read out to Catholic churches over the weekend criticized the government for human rights abuses as well as the economic malaise faced by the country.
“Fear runs down the spine of many of our people today. The crackdown on dissent is unprecedented,” the bishops said.
Following this statement, Minister Mutsvangwa responded with a scathing attack on the Church. Her attack which has been widely condemned, surprisingly picked on Archbishop Robert Ndlovu.
In a brazen letter she accused the Church of "trumpeting petty tribal feuds and narrow regionalist agendas” to “sow seeds of internecine strife as a prelude to national disintegration.”
This was directed at the reference to a tribalist purging of Ndebele-speaking people in the 80s. Infamously called ‘Gukurahundi' the episode marked a dark cloud in the history of the country and over the years human rights defenders have called for reconciliation.
The bishops had pointed this out in their letter but Minister Mutsvangwa reacted angrily to that reference.
“With nefarious cynicism to history, Archbishop Robert Christopher Ndlovu is inching to lead the Zimbabwe Catholic congregation into the darkest dungeons of Rwanda-type genocide,” she said.
Mutsvangwa said Archbishop Ndlovu wanted to “posit as the leader of righteous Ndebele minority by fanning the psychosis of tribal victimization”.
“Concurrently, he sows seeds of collective guilt on the Shona majority,” she charged, while also calling Archbishop Ndlovu a “dyed in the wool coward” for not fighting in the 1980s independence war in which she said she took part.
However, her statements have provoked such public rebuke that has never been witnessed before. The Zimbabwe Catholic Lawyers Guild, in a statement, called Mutsvangwa’s comments “disgraceful”.
“Without responding to the issues raised, the government issued a vicious attack on the bishops, regrettably calling the Church’s leadership ‘misguided and evil minded’. We note with concern the vicious tribal attack against Archbishop Ndlovu which must be condemned by all right-thinking people,” the Catholic lawyers wrote.
Archbishop Robert Ndlovu has seen growing support for standing up against growing intolerance and witchhunting in Zimbabwe (C) Secam
The Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) also issued a statement imploring President Emmerson Mnangagwa to retract the attacks. The ZCC also called for the urgent convening of the National Episcopal Conference of the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations to deliberate on the state of the nation and agree on the appropriate ecumenical action.
Opposition leader for the MDC Alliance, Nelson Chamisa said the Church was “a moral compass, conscience guardians” who must “speak truth to power in any society.”
“The government’s vitriol and diatribe aimed at the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference position on the current political and economic instability is evidence that Zimbabwe is indeed in turmoil,” Chamisa said.
In a statement, the MDC Alliance said, “we demand an apology and withdrawal of the unacceptable remarks.”
Another opposition party, the National Patriotic Front also tore into Minister Mutsvangwa over her sentiments. The party’s Spokesperson, Jealousy Mawarire said the attack was unacceptable hate speech that should be condemned by every right-thinking Zimbabwean.
Despite the uproar, Minister Mutsvangwa said she was standing by her comments: “My statement invokes national unity of equal Zimbabwean citizens”.