New Zimbabwe (London)

Zimbabwe: Zim More Polarized After Polls - Bishops

THREE months after President Robert Mugabe settled into another period of office after 33 years of iron-fist rule, the country's Roman Catholic bishops say the country has become more polarized and it needs to engage with the international community.

The bishops wrote a pastoral letter entitled "A proposed national agenda for restoration and peace in Zimbabwe following the July 2013 National Elections."

In their message in early December that was released as a Christmas and New Year's message the bishops lament that 'there are no visible prospects for improvement in the spheres of life in Zimbabwe that cry for restoration to give people hope for a better life."

This is, "despite the country being 'blessed with abundant natural resources and resilient, God-fearing and highly skilled people."

"From where we stand as shepherds in God's vineyard, we are compelled to observe that the elections have left Zimbabweans more polarised than they were before and during the years of the Inclusive Government (2009 - 2013)," says the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference.

Since an election on July 31 that the opposition declared a "massive fraud" Zimbabwe has said says it will no longer pursue re-engagement with Western countries until they lift their "illegal sanctions", the country's government-controlled Herald newspaper reported.

The Herald quoted Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi saying Zimbabwe had nothing more to negotiate with the West after they failed to endorse the July elections in which Mugabe's Zanu PF party won "resoundingly."

The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Zimbabwean State companies and travel restrictions on Mugabe and dozens of his ruling party associates after a violent 2000 election.

Coalition government

Mugabe, who is now aged 89, had refused to accept defeat to opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in a violence-marred election in 2008 until an African-brokered deal was made for a government of national unity with Mugabe at the helm.

"The political fault lines and their impact on all aspects of the lives of Zimbabweans are set not only to deepen, but also to stand in the way of progress and ultimately in the way of peace," the bishops warned in their pastoral letter.

They called for "full-engagement with the international community."

Zimbabwe was once one of the most prosperous of African countries, but now it is one of the poorest after its policies said to redistribute land and natural resources has left them in the hands of the ruling party elite.

The bishops paint a bleak picture of life in Zimbabwe which gained independence from Britain in 1980 after a bitter war of independence by liberation armies backed by the Soviet Union and China against white settlers, supported by South Africa.

"Our industrial sites carry the appearance of ghost towns because the once-vibrant manufacturing sector is now largely moribund.

"The dignity of our people has been severely eroded as they have become reduced to sellers of cheap goods and products at street corners in our cities in order to survive.

"Daily water and power cuts, shortage of medicines, equipment and professional personnel in our hospitals, chaos and carnage on our roads, raw sewage flowing in the streets of our towns and cities - the list of what reduces us as a people, our dignity and our hope for a better life is long."

The bishops' observations were endorsed in articles written in the magazine Jesuits and Friends.

Rev. Roland von Nidda, a Jesuit parish priest of St. Peter's Kubatana in Zimbabwe, said that Zimbabwe's wealth of resources includes "the best educated people in Africa, the biggest diamond fields in the world and the second largest platinum deposits world-wide. But not much of this wealth trickles down to the mass of the poor'.

He noted that the poverty rate in Zimbabwe is estimated to be around 70 percent, unemployment is approximately 80 percent and the gap between the rich and poor is among the highest in the world.

Obscenely rich

"The small echelon of obscenely rich live in fine mansions, drive expensive cars, eat out in the mushrooming restaurants and shop in smart malls stuffed with luxury items," he said.

"Meanwhile, the great mass of the poor try to scratch a living on largely subsistence farming in their villages, or in the urban informal sector selling vegetables or goods bought from South Africa."

Another Jesuit priest, Rev. Clyde Murope wrote in the same magazine, "Having been in the doldrums for more than a decade, Zimbabwe now needs both local and international support.

"Development and growth is possible only if we all oppose corruption and complacency."

Mugabe was late in expressing condolences after the death of Nelson Mandela on December 5, but attended his funeral 10 days later.

Some political commentators compared the two, both of whom led armed insurrection against white minority rule and became their country's first black presidents elected by universal suffrage.

Mandela stood as president for one term and was steadfast in his principles of reconciliation, whereas Mugabe has held onto power by all means for 33 years.

In their letter the Catholic bishops quote Pope Francis' words, "On political, economic and social matters it is not for dogma to indicate the practical solutions, but rather for dialogue, listening, patience, respect for the other, sincerity and also willingness to rethink one's own opinion."

Mugabe was brought up as a Catholic and was educated by the Jesuits. He says he is a practicing Catholic, but so far has failed to heed the advice of Church leaders during his decades in power.

But the bishops are praying that the season of "Christmas, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ as one of us, may help us address all areas of our greatest need."

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