PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday made a passionate plea to political players to sober up and desist from violent tendencies ahead of this year’s harmonised election, while on the other hand church leaders warmed up to his candidature, describing him as the best foot forward.
BY OBEY MANAYITI
The church leaders, who seemed to have been charmed by Mnangagwa, also disputed the widely held notion that the country was under military rule following its role in removing former President Robert Mugabe.
Addressing different church organisations in Harare, Mnangagwa said violence was ungodly and there was no need to shed blood over elections.
Zimbabwean elections have a history of both inter and intra-party violence. Zanu PF has been accused of perpetrating violence against opposition supporters.
“As we approach the harmonised elections later this year, I urge the church to reach out to all its congregants with this message, of peace, love and unity,” Mnangagwa said.
“I will soon be meeting with my fellow leaders of political parties in Zimbabwe including the young (Nelson) Chamisa to drum up the same message that all of us, as leaders from respective political parties, must actively shun violence, but rather exercise tolerance. I repeat – there is no need for violence. This is a new era,” he said.
He said in the event of disagreements, violence must not be used to settle matters. “While there may be some disagreements between us, we should never allow our political discourse to turn poisonous. As voters, we must reward those who seek dialogue and treat opponents with respect,” he said.
Mnangagwa urged the churches to continue to provide public services such as schools, vocational training centres, business incubation centres, hospitals, clinics and orphanages across the country.
The churches demanded an urgent review of the school curriculum, saying they were against most issues introduced by former Education minister Lazarus Dokora.
They also appealed for access to land for church projects while others demanded return of their land compulsorily acquired by government during the fast-track land reform programme.
Mnangagwa promised to look into their demands, claiming the country was open for business in a Christian and honest way.
Among their demands, the churches want the school curriculum to be reviewed saying there were many things that they didn’t like which were introduced by Dokora. They said they made concerted efforts, including approaching Mugabe, Dokora and Parliament to have the curriculum dropped.
The churches also appealed to have access to land for church projects and to have recognition to the extent of having a political minister of religion and have seats in Parliament. Churches also applauded Mnangagwa and his deputy, Constantino Chiwenga, for ushering in a peaceful transition that disposed Mugabe.
Mnangagwa promised to look into their demands.
Various church leaders stampeded to endorse Mnangagwa’s candidature in the forthcoming presidential elections, with Zion Christian Church leader Nehemiah Mutendi describing him as a mature politician.
“We will pledge on behalf of the bishops, we will advise our members and we will tell the truth that this is the person we must support. Let’s give him the opportunity. As churches we are shepherds and we will tell our congregants to support you,” he said.
Mutendi said it was wrong to claim that the country was under military rule saying it was in the hands of mature former soldiers who were able to deliver.
Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe leader Johannes Ndanga equated Mnangagwa to the biblical Joshua.
“Moses never took the children of Israel to Canaan but Joshua did. Mugabe was not allowed to take the children of God to Canaan but Mnangagwa will do,” he said.
But human rights activists condemned the church leaders move.
Human Rights Watch Southern Africa director Dewa Mavinga said by endorsing Mnangagwa church leaders were promoting polarization and partisan politics.
“The Church and church leaders must always be non-partisan, always being the moral conscience of society speaking truth to power. What church leaders did, to endorse the Zanu PF presidential candidate ED, is both shameful and unacceptable. These church leaders are promoting polarisation and partisan politics when their churches have people from all walks of life and diverse political backgrounds. Is the ZION Church only for Zanu PF members? Church leaders must promote multi-party democracy and plurality, and desist from peddling a misguided one-party doctrine,” he said
Human rights activist Patson Dzamara said: “Inasmuch as I subscribe to the notion that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future, this development is worrying. For starters, Mnangagwa still has a long journey to sainthood. Indeed, the church is the salt of the earth and, of course, it must be involved in the governance process. It must stand for these pillars among other things justice, love, peace, and good governance. As far as Mnangagwa’s government is concerned, it certainly falls short in satisfying these pillars. How the church, therefore, chooses to endorse such a government is definitely morally and spiritually wrong. What the church should be doing is lobbying and the government uphold such pillars.”
Political commentator Rejoice Ngwenya said: “Voting is a personal choice. No-one can and should be told who to vote for. Endorsing is populist necessity, but not a determinant factor.”