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Looking beyond the fence

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You cannot leave politics just to politicians. You must not hand over the country and its people to a small clique.

The country belongs to all of us, and its people are too precious to be put into the hands of a few self-centred, short-sighted political careerists.

Leaders get very indignant if non-politicians, for example, church leaders, speak up on social justice, solidarity with the poor, the common good.

Power is their monopoly, or so they think, and they do not want any interference. Piously they admonish the Church to remain “spiritual”.

The problem with our leaders is that their outlook is so narrow. They represent merely group interests: their party, their home area, their province, their ethnic unit, some of them just themselves and their own very selfish interests.

It is here that the Church, which is non-political in terms of political parties, but cannot help but being political in terms of social justice, must widen the horizon of political players and help them look across the fence where the other half lives.

Politicians who tend to spend their energy on short-term goals to ensure their political survival must learn to think long-term.

They are being celebrated by their supporters for their actions today. But who reminds them of the disastrous results tomorrow?

Members of a charity took me to see two old men who live in an old shed with a leaky roof and a few old plastic sheets to keep out wind and rain.

Their companion died last month, of hunger and disease. The place is dirty, and they asked for soap.

One of them said their misery started at the time of “Tsunami” (Operation Clean-up/Murambatsvina) in 2005. Politicians responsible for that terrible attack on the poor have long forgotten. Somebody needs to remind them of the consequences of their action. “Chinokanganwa idemo, chitsiga hachikanganwi” (The axe may forget, but not the log).

African unity and solidarity are not real as long as we let these two Malawian fellow citizens who worked in and for Zimbabwe all their lives live, or rather die, in utter misery.

This country is blessed with great treasures. When the “pioneers” came they expected gold. They found rich agricultural land. And plenty of diverse minerals as well. Gold, silver, copper, nickel, platinum and most recently diamonds.

But it has not been a blessing. Our selfishness spoiled it. As it has also in other parts of the continent.

Has oil brought prosperity to the people of Nigeria? What benefit have the common people of the Congo derived from their mineral wealth?

None. It has caused war and violence, rape and murder. Our leaders lack vision, they have no idea of the common good taking in all the people of the country, they do not know how to create and produce wealth that is shared by all.

Some attempts have been made. We have the National Social Security Authority.

It was badly damaged by the run-away inflation of recent years. It can only reach its full potential in a thriving economy.

The man or woman who achieves that goal will be a real leader, indeed a genuine hero or heroine, even if they are not buried eventually on a heroes’ acre.

A worker joined the trade union. That was his “mistake”. The “ruling party”, forever distrustful of the trade unions as a possible rival, saw to it that all union members in his company were dismissed.

Ever since he and his family have been living precariously from “self-jobs”. He buys cattle for slaughter and sells the meat.

But that needs capital. And can go wrong when there is a long power-cut: the other day they had to throw away meat that had gone bad in the current heat when refrigeration failed.

As lodgers much of their meagre income goes into rent. Their dream is a house of their own. They are members of a housing cooperative, but can’t keep up with the payments.

“It is desirable that every family should be able to acquire a home of its own, because home ownership contributes to the stability and welfare of the family which the State has a duty to foster and protect”
(Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference, 1989). That is the vision of the Church. Mediocre politicians cannot see that. But they need to be told.

They sell land and housing for a high price: party loyalty and slavish obedience to party bosses.

There is need for a voice which keeps reminding leaders that their narrow outlook is a sin against our God-given country and a crime against basic human rights, e.g. the right to have a family, to have work and shelter, regardless of party affiliation.

Sometimes a church betrays its mission.

It may behave very much like a party or union, interested only in its own survival and the prosperity of its own members, failing to look beyond the fence and take the common good and well-being of all people into view.

The Church is universal. A national or tribal church is an impossibility, it contradicts itself. The Church was sent to all nations and embraces “people from every nation, race, tribe and language” (Revelations 7: 9).

The point of the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) is that a stranger came to the assistance of a Jew, recognising a child of God in the distressed victim of violence, while forgetting about the ethnic and religious difference.

If the Church is true to itself it is fit to challenge leaders to look beyond the fence, beyond mere personal or collective self-interest and to heal them from this disease.

If government keeps telling the Church “to keep out of politics”, it is defending its own narrow-mindedness and claims to know all, without any need to listen to other voices. Which is clearly absurd. What chief in the past was not listening to his councillors?

What modern statesman does not have to take counsel with a wide variety of experts?

And what creature on this earth does not need the light and spirit of its creator?

l Fr Oskar Wermter SJ is a social commentator.

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