Facing electoral chaos, Zimbabwe churches unite to educate voters

(Photo: Reuters / Philimon Bulawayo)Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (R) looks on as President Robert Mugabe signs Zimbabwe's new constitution into law in the capital Harare, May 22, 2013. The constitution, approved overwhelmingly in a referendum in March, clips the powers of the president and imposes a two-term limit. However, it does not apply retroactively so the 89-year-old Mugabe could extend his 33 years in power by another decade.

The 15-country Southern Africa Development Community has called on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to delay elections scheduled for July 31.

At the same time civil society and church groups are scrambling to aid the electoral process which during the 21st century has always ended in conflict and violence.

"There is a need for the government of Zimbabwe to engage the constitutional court to request more time beyond the 31st of July," SADC secretary general Tomaz Salomao said at the close of a summit of regional leaders in Maputo on Saturday.

Zimbabwe's highest court had ruled that elections must take place before that date and it did not take into consideration there is not enough time to enact reforms agreed to through the peace process that would ensure the polls are free and fair.

Mugabe's decision to press ahead with the election pushed Zimbabwe into another electoral crisis.

Election crises have plagued the southern African country since 2000,Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and a poll without installing agreed-to reforms would favor Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party some of whose leaders believe only they can rule as they have in effect done since 1980.


Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who has been in a government of unity with Mugabe recently, had said he would veto any election date that comes before media, security and electoral reforms are implemented.

Southern Africa Crisis Management Agency, a non-governmental agency and Christian Action Trust Zimbabwe (CAT-Zim) had come together early in June to launch a grassroots anchored peace initiative when elections take place in Zimbabwe later this year.

To lay the groundwork, the organizations are training church pastors and spiritual leaders in electoral processes and monitoring of political violence across the country which has taken place in the country often stirred by agents of the Zanu-PF, the party that won independence elections in 1979.

They will also be responsible for escalating the incidences with relevant authorities, following incidents reported.

The scheme has trained more than 200 church leaders, including pastors and bishops, kubatana.net has reported.

On completion the programme is expected to reach 5,000 church leaders across Zimbabwe.

"We are part of a broader group of organisations affiliated to the Zimbabwe Council of Churches who have embarked on various strategies to minimise violence and torture as part of our normal pastoral work in Zimbabwe.


"This program seeks to compliment the efforts already underway by three Zimbabwe main church organisations: the Catholic Bishops Conference, Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches to address Zimbabwe's perennial legacy of violence before, during and after elections," said Rev. Levee Kadenge, chairman of CAT-Zim.

Kadenge who had led the ecumenical Zimbabwe Christian Alliance since 2008, noted at that time the country's main grouping of traditional Protestant churches and the African and global umbrella church organizations with which it is affiliated had been notable for their silence on what was happening in his country.

On October 28, 2008 Kadenge told Geneva-based ENInews, "The Zimbabwe Council of Churches has done nothing. The churches should have been speaking without fear of favour, just speaking on behalf of suffering masses of Zimbabwe. Their absenteeism is so pronounced."

Robert Mugabe's policy of mass confiscation of land held by minority white settlers who owned most of the productive land and who had held political power until 1979, turned Zimbabwe in the words of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, from the bread-basket of Africa into a "basket case."

In 2002, Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations due to the reckless farm seizures and blatant election tampering and the following year the country voluntarily terminated its Commonwealth membership as its rhetoric against foreign powers escalated.

Elections held in the country in 2005 were found to be fraudulent by international monitors.

On March 29, 2008, Zimbabwe held a presidential election along with a parliamentary election. The three major candidates were Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change–Tsvangirai (MDC-T), and Simba Makoni, an independent.


The results of this election were withheld for two weeks, after which it was generally acknowledged that the opposition MDC had achieved a majority in the lower house of parliament, but Mugabe refused to accept the result.

A blog called The Patriot currently supports the ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled with an iron fist since 1980 headlined a piece, "NGOs using churches to carry out election sabotage."

The Patriot who does not sign his name on the blog wrote, "I do not support these trainings as I smell the hand of the pink [white] men. The church is being used and must stand up to these colonial powers."

Churches that have spoken out on issues of justice over the past 14 years in Zimbabwe have been attacked by the ruling party and security forces.

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches and CCJP (Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace) launched the election program aimed at bringing peace in the country and urged churches to pursue peace initiatives in view of the pending elections.

Speaking after the pastors training in the eastern city of Mutare near Mozambique on June 3, SACMA Zimbabwe Coordinator Tichanzii Gandanga said, "SACMA in partnership with CAT-Zim is training pastors in electoral processes and monitoring of political violence, equipping them with various skills like terrain scanning, event diarising, incident recording as well as peace building.


"The initiative aims to finally set up a Zimbabwean own version of Ushahidi where incidences of violence are fed onto an online database in real time with church leaders as Community focal persons in scanning, detecting, verifying and feeding our call centre."

The Ushahidi initiative is an online mapping tool that started in Kenya in 2008 to track and map political violence there.

Ushahidi means witness or testimony in Swahili, and it developed using an online mapping system, used around the world to report and track issues like violence and corruption.

The technology is already used in Zimbabwe to map and report corruption through the 'I paid a bribe' anonymous reporting website. A political violence map was also started using Ushahidi in 2011 by a blog called 3rdLiberation.

The Mutare workshop was attended by over 40 pastors from different denominations.

When asked to comment about the training Rev. Jonathan Memory Chindewere of Kingdom Faith Ministries Church said, "As pastors our job is to shepherd all people and to bring and maintain peace; as such this training will go a long way in helping to make the church a safety sanctuary to all peoples without regard to political affiliations."

Zimbabweans are hoping for harmonised elections this year as a precarious Government of National Unity sees its mandate brought about by the Southern African Development Community-brokered Global Political Agreement comes to an end in June.

That agreement signed in September 2008 was facilitated by South African President Thabo Mbeki led to a coalition government for Zimbabwe that hammered out a new constitution with electoral reforms that Mubabe's party has often resisted.

Kubatana reported that violence always rears its ugly head during and after elections with allegations of partisan policing levelled against Zimbabwe Republic Police and security forces.

It said the country remains polarised and the likelihood of a violent poll is high given the stakes.

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