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The lukewarm approach of the ‘Sabbath proposal’

The Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations recently came out with the call for a ‘Sabbath’ which primarily calls for the suspension of elections over the next seven years with the view of creating political collaboration which they hope will lead to the economic and political stability that the nation desperately needs. This call is worrying on fundamental issues that I would like to highlight which are the elitist nature of the proposal, the trampling on democratic norms and the lukewarm decision in which the church instead of making a stand against a repressive ZANU PF government, have decided to coddle them.

Firstly, I would like to make it known that I am a member of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, from the Diocese of Harare at the St Marys parish in the Harare Central Business District. My church is a member of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) which is a signatory of this proposal. As a result, by association, I implicitly am a co-signer in this proposal. This is extremely worrying because as an active participant in the church I know that no broad discussions were made within the church on this issue. This then highlights the elitist nature of this proposal. I do acknowledge that as the leaders of the church, they have a mandate to lead the discussions on such pertinent issues that are affecting their congregants. However, with such a bold proposal which calls for the suspension of the national elections that their members are a direct stakeholder in, not seeking their voices and support is a form of authoritarianism and elitist understanding of solving problems that lead to the problem not being solved.

It is generally agreed that about 70-80% of the Zimbabwean community consider themselves to be Christians. What this proposal (if it was not so elitist in its construction) means in effect is that 80% of the Zimbabwean community are implicitly and/or explicitly calling for the suspension of elections. That from the public reactions to this proposal is a fallacy. What does this mean then? It means that the church leaders need to go back to their congregants and ask them for their opinions on the issue. The dogma that, ‘what is done for us, without us, is against us’ holds true when it comes to gender, youth AND religious exclusionary policies. The church leaders are our shepherds. They should remember that shepherds do not lead their sheep from the front, they lead from behind.

My next critique of the proposal is the call to suspend elections for seven years during the Sabbath. This call is extremely worrying to say the very least. It has shades of authoritarianism that are similar to the ‘coup not a coup’ we experienced in November 2017. This proposal essentially spits in the face of the right to vote and democratic foundations that Zimbabwe is trying to form. Their reasoning is that the two main political parties are stuck in a spirit of ‘electioneering.’ What this then does is create a situation in which political decisions that affect the average Zimbabwean are taken without their consultation. Again, this shows the ill-informed reasoning behind this decision. It assumes that elections are the problem when in actual fact, the lack of democratic, free and fair elections are the problem. Hopewell Chin’ono has come out in support arguing that elections are a ‘western creation.’ This is categorically false. There is nothing western about the desire and right to have your voice heard, which is what elections do.

Furthermore, the church leaders have argued that the reason that they are calling for the suspension of elections is that because of previous rigged elections, “the more citizens lose confidence in democratic processes such as elections, the more apathetic they will become and the less representative political offices will become.” Their fears are honest and real but suspending elections does not increase confidence in elections. If anything, it does the exact opposite where people will believe that elections are not a conduit for change or representation at all. This is evidenced in most countries that suffer from coups. The elections after that are usually rigged and not representative. The irony that comes along with this proposal is that two of the major churches in Zimbabwe have suffered because of the lack of respect of elections. My own church, the Anglican church had a six-year fight in courts fighting for democratic processes to be upheld when former Bishop Kunonga refused to leave office. A similar fight has occurred recently in the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) church.

Finally, I must acknowledge that it was heart-warming to see the Church leaders making a stand on these issues. It is a critical voice that has for too long not said something when they clearly have a lot of clout and support. They are a sleeping giant in our nations discourse. However, their stand is lukewarm to say the very least. At a time when we need the church to take a firm stand against the repressive nature and policies of the ZANU government, they have decided to stand in the middle ground and play into the hands of the authoritarian culture that ZANU PF has created. The Church leaders have taken a lukewarm stand and as they would know, as God has said, “so because you are lukewarm-neither hot or cold-I am about to vomit you out.”

The church leaders risk the church’s influence being vomited out from the national discourse. Before that happens, there is still time to alter their proposal, lead a broad-based discussion within the churches so as to garner mass support and take a firm, unapologetic stance against the evils of the ZANU PF government. As one citizen commented, “elections are not the problem, ZANU-PF is.”

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