Harare — The church in Zimbabwe risks losing credibility because some clergymen have been bribed to support the authoritarian regime of President Robert Mugabe, a senior church leader said.
Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, a fierce critic of Mugabe's, said the President was using 'divide and rule tactics' to silence opposition from the churches.
"The Church has let down the people very, very greatly by siding with Mugabe hook, line and sinker," the archbishop said on Monday in an interview with SW Radio Africa.
Some clergy, Archbishop Ncube claimed, were even spying for the government. He said the Mugabe regime also uses bribes to get support from some senior church leaders.
"I can confirm that a lot of money is being given to clerics and farms have been given to senior clerics to get them to the government side in such a way that when we meet as clergy we can no longer be united."
President Mugabe was last Friday a guest at the anniversary celebrations of a Catholic parish in the southern Diocese of Masvingo, where he called on the church to support his government. He donated computers to a Catholic-run high school.
Archbishop Ncube said he did not want to name those who had received bribes, saying it would become "nasty and very personal" but he did mention a bishop and a pastor who were well known for having accepted confiscated farms.
The corruption also extended to the Catholic Church. The archbishop said he had been offered a farm, but he said: "I am a respectable Catholic, so I refused. I knew they wanted to silence me because I am critical of the land reform programme which is not transparent."
Ncube said Mugabe is aware of the power of the churches in Zimbabwe and has divided and bribed some of the leaders to the extent that "we have become unfaithful to our calling; we as churchmen are supposed to stand with the poor, to defend the poor and we have forgotten our mission."
Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group warned on Tuesday that the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party wants to avoid a popular vote next year by using the legislature it controls to establish a transitional presidency and appoint a successor to Mugabe, who has said he will retire.
"By engineering a transition, Mugabe also intends to secure a dignified personal exit that includes a retirement package and security guarantees," the group said.
ZANU-PF's policies, corruption and repressive governance are directly responsible for a severe economic slide, growing public discontent and international isolation of Zimbabwe. In April, inflation officially topped 1,000 per cent. Unemployment is over 85 per cent and poverty over 90 per cent. A quarter of the nation's 12 million people are in desperate need of food.