Building Narratives: That powerful letter from the bishops

The late American politician and civil rights leader, John Robert Lewis

IN August 2020 at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC) penned a powerful pastoral letter titled “The March is not Ended” which at the time sought to highlight the Church’s position on the deteriorating political, social and economic situation in Zimbabwe.

I do not know how many times I have read this letter over and over again or is it because of my bias as a fellow Catholic, but that letter still stands out as possibly one of the best letters written by the bishops in recent years. I have always loved it especially when the church plays its role in peace and nation building and in most Catholic dominated nations, when the Catholic Church sneezes, the government catches cold and are usually called to order.

At the time of its publication, the pastoral letter sent shockwaves to the corridors of power and had the government’s information ministry pressing its panic buttons. In the aftermath of the letter, others, church groups and civic societies also endorsed the letter and were in agreement that it truly resonated or best captured the ongoing political, social and economic developments in Zimbabwe at the time.

Although nothing much has changed on the ground, it is important to reflect on why this pastoral letter made such a powerful impact at its publication.

Why this letter still stands out

The Title

One thing that I loved about this letter is how the bishops were sincere and honest in their concern over the deteriorating situation in the country. The title of the letter itself stood out and by making reference to the late American politician and civil rights leader, John Robert Lewis and his recognition and admission of the need for an continued fight for human rights, the bishops seemed to insinuate that even in “ideal or admirable Western democracies” such as America, the March was never ended even in the present times we lived in as peace building and nation building were never completed tasks.

The underlying message–Call for dialogue

The bishops then brought this argument home and highlighted that the challenge in Zimbabwe was between those who believed in a past and completed struggle and those who realise that the march is not ended.

“Fear runs down the spine of many of our people today. The crackdown on dissent is unprecedented. Is this the Zimbabwe we want? To have a different opinion does not mean to be an enemy, it is precisely from contrast of opinions that light comes. Our government automatically labels anyone thinking differently as an enemy of the country, that is an abuse” reads part of the letter.

It seems the bishops knew how the government would ruthlessly respond to their letter as they were called names soon after its publication hence they had pre-empted this response by proving that they were only acting in the interest of national cohesion and had the best interest of Zimbabweans at heart. The fact that the government threatened the bishops after the letter’s publication before later on retreating is a good testament of the impact the letter made in that they (national leadership and government) could have realised that the bishops were raising serious and sincere concerns at ensuring peace building and national cohesion in the midst of a deepening political, economic and social crisis.

“As your Bishops we feel that this described situation is true of Zimbabwe. It feels as though the poor have no one to defend them. They don’t seem to feature on the national agenda. Their cries for improved health system go unheeded” …….

Solution bearing

Moreover, the striking beauty of this letter is that the bishops were not only sincere in being the voice of the poor but also appealed to the government to listen to its people and offered solutions on what they termed the Comprehensive National Settlement Framework Proposal seeking to establish consensus among the citizens as to what should constitute a comprehensive agenda towards a lasting solution for Zimbabwe’s challenges.

Three years after its publication the letter is still valid and shows that Zimbabwe still has a long way to go in peace and nation building through inclusive engagement, dialogue and collective responsibility for transformation.

The powerful Biblical Lletters of St Paul

The current Easter season is a reminder of the dominance and impact of the letters written by St Pauls – which in essence constitutes two thirds of the New Testament. The Letters of Apostle Paul were written in epistle form and expanded upon the Greco-Roman models of his time. Undoubtedly the body of Paul’s letters make up most of the theology of the Christian Church. One cannot help but notice the love and care Paul has for people in churches he established. In his personal letters to Timothy and Titus, one feels the tenderness of a good father.

  • Fungayi Antony Sox is an editor, researcher, communications and publishing consultant. He writes in his personal capacity. For feedback contact him on +263 776 030 949, connect with him on LinkedIn on Fungayi Antony Sox or follow him on Twitter: @AntonySox.

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