Zimbabwe bishops urge violence free 2018 polls, as Mugabe likened to 'God' by youth leader

(File photo: L'Osservatore Romano.)Zimbabwe's Catholic Bishops with Pope Francis during a visit to Rome. (file) - L'Osservatore Romano.

It is still some time to Zimbabwe's 2018 national elections, but the country's Catholic bishops have taken the opportunity to issue a Pentecost Sunday pastoral letter titled, "Elections, Peace and Development" that rejects all forms of violence and coercion.

Under the iron-fisted rule of 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe, the last three elections which have been won by the ruling Zanu-PF party, were stolen according to the opposition.

Many observers say severe intimidation has been part of electioneering  in recent national polls with accusations aimed particularly at the government side.

"Reject all forms of violence and coercion: Violence and coercion only serve to discredit our elections. Any use of force takes away the credibility and integrity of the elections.

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"People must be able to make free choices according to their own judgement," the letter reads in part, according to Vatican Radio.

All the country's bishops signed the pastoral letter which was released on Pentecost Sunday by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference (ZCBC).

The bishops specifically appeal to the government of President Robert Mugabe to ensure that citizens enjoy their political rights and freedom of expression, Vatican Radio reports.

Mugabe was brought up a Roman Catholic and says he is a believer, but he has often been criticized by the church in the past for his excesses and authoritarian rule which he has hung onto since he became president at the time of independence from Britain in 1980.

Concerned Zimbabweans this week called on the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe to censure Mugabe over blasphemous remarks made his party's youth leader Kudzanai Chipanga, Zim Eye reports.

Chipanga has equated Mugabe to God. "Truly speaking, in heaven there is God and here on earth there is an angel called Robert Gabriel Mugabe. You are representing God here on earth," Chipanga said as Mugabe, his wife Grace and Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa watched.

Political analyst Alois Matongo wrote, "The equating of Robert Gabriel Mugabe to Angel Gabriel by Kudzai Chipanga and Mugabe's silence over this blasphemous speech has set a situation that compels the Catholic Church to crack the whip on their member, Robert Gabriel Mugabe for gross blasphemy."

Matongo said, "Mugabe is a well-known Catholic who has regularly visited the Vatican to attend big papal masses in a very prominent chair on the high table.

"That Mugabe and wife failed to condemn utterances by Chipanga when they got to the podium means they approved the words and are guilty of the highest crime in the Catholic Church (blasphemy) and must be brought to book for it."

Mugabe was once considered the icon of the anticolonial movement after the guerrilla war he led against white-minority rule.

But his clinging to power, hatred of whites and the land nationalization policies that forced many black as well as white people off farms that have led his 14.5 million people into poverty, and often starvation, forcing millions to flee the country, have earned the scorn of many world leaders.

ADHERING TO ZIMBABWE CONSTITUTION

Throughout their letter, the bishops constantly urge political parties, the government and individuals to strictly adhere to and respect the Constitution of Zimbabwe which was overwhelming approved by a referendum vote of May 2013.

On Friday this week, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was reported by local media to have embarked on nationwide public rallies aimed at rousing support for the ruling ZANU-PF in the 2018 elections. The ZANU-PF party wants incumbent President, Mugabe 93, as its sole presidential candidate.

The Bishops' pastoral letter is an attempt to prepare and steer the nation away from a repeat of the 2008 political and electoral crisis. Zimbabwe's 2008 pre and post-election landscape was very volatile and characterized by wide scale violence most of which was blamed on state institutions and agents.

As a way out of the 2008 crisis, the ZANU-PF and the two MDC political parties settled for a power-sharing Government of National Union (GNU) brokered by the then South African President, Thabo Mbeki in 2009.

With this pastoral letter, the Catholic Bishops want Zimbabweans to respect the Constitution and behave peacefully before, during and after the 2018 general elections.

"As we prepare for 2018, let us respect each other and even mirror in our words and actions the love of God, Father of us all," the bishops said.

"We now have our own Constitution, a great achievement, and it says in one place, 'The State and every person, including the juristic persons, and every institution and agency of government at every level, must promote national unity, peace and stability,'" they noted.

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