CHURCHES have come together to launch a new peace initiative aimed at promoting peace and tolerance in the country as preparations for the forthcoming watershed elections gets underway.
The Ecumenical Peace Observation Initiative in Zimbabwe (EPOIZ) is a joint programme of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations Chair, Goodwill Shana said the initiative was informed by past experiences of intolerance, intimidation and violence during election periods.
"At key moments in our history, our people have suffered the effects of violence; from the colonial system through the liberation struggle. The violence has continued even after the attainment of independence," he said.
Shana said the initiative wanted to avoid a repeat of the violence which characterised the 2008 election period which left a legacy of unresolved trauma, hurt and bitterness that people continue to grapple with today.
A referendum on Zimbabwe's new constitution was held this month, paving the way for a general election to be held later this year.
"Through it all as Churches, we have tried to assist the victims and alleviate the suffering of the common person," Shana said. "But it is time to address this; we cannot risk the resurgence of political tensions and violence and so we are galvanised as churches to act together and urgently promote a culture of peace and justice in Zimbabwe."
The church grouping estimates that up to 70% of Zimbabwe's 13,5 million population belong to mainstream Christian churches.
The initiative believes that church leaders have the moral authority to speak up for peace and justice as well as to act as witnesses and watchdogs for a credible electoral process.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who is a member of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights, gave his support to the creation of EPOIZ.
In a letter, Tutu recommended the making of EPOIZ into an inclusive and open platform in order to achieve widespread support from Zimbabwean society.
"We urge you to remain united while seeking a peaceful political transition for Zimbabwe. In our view, unity and open-mindedness are essential to the EPOIZ's success during the difficult and crucial times that are coming," said the retired Bishop.
In the run up to elections, EPOIZ will run a national peace campaign in Zimbabwe's 10 provinces working closely with local Justice and Peace Commissions and other church institutions.
Activities under EPOIZ will also involve high-level peace-building meetings between heads of churches and the political leadership in Zimbabwe, as well as with the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc).
Reverend Solomon Zwana of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches said violence would not succeed in the country.
"Violence of any type divides communities, so all people of God must stand together for peace and unity," he said.