ZIMBABWE: Bishops Dedicate Lent Towards Peaceful Elections, Call for Political Tolerance 

By Paschal Norbert

HARARE, FEBRUARY 28, 2023 (CISA) – “A General Election is a sacred moment of synodality and communal discernment. Because synodality is about journeying together, an important watershed moment in the life of a people, a General Election, should never be preceded by violence. Because it is a time of communal discernment about the kind of leadership we want, and where we wish to go as a nation, a General Election, should never be in a context of intimidation and incarceration,” stated the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) in their 2023 Lenten Pastoral Letter themed “Breaking the Unjust Fetters.”

The bishops urged the faithful to ponder for the 40 days of lent the kind of political leadership they desire and choose people who will lead the country onto the path of economic prosperity, justice and freedom.

“As we go for elections it is imperative that there is clarity about what we want from these elections, hence the need for the 40 days of fasting and prayer. If important elections such as these become nothing but a power game, seeking to attain or retain power and nothing else to offer beyond this, then as a nation, we are lost and we are doomed,” they said.

The 2023 General Elections are expected to be held in Zimbabwe in either July or August, however, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has yet to announce the exact date for the vote.

According to the bishops, the election must bring in a president who cares for the people, especially the poor both young and old, and leaders who can build economies that ensure bread on every table and equal opportunities for all.

“Looking at where we are, we see that our people are witnesses and worse, victims of abject poverty and destitution. We live with these and there doesn’t seem to be an exodus, a way out of this desperation, where people are without work, and those with work are paid never enough to feed themselves and look after their families. We see a growing population on the streets living on begging. We see a very high percentage of young people of school-going age not going to school and a good number of them are now being employed, by untouchable drug lords, to sell drugs and killing themselves and many others in the process. We also see that our people are being used as ponies in the power game. Clearly, they are victims of political violence fanned by the reckless utterances of the political leadership in its quest for power. How many more people have to be maimed and how many have to be killed before we can put a stop to all this?” laments the bishops.

The prelates while appealing for political tolerance in the country, called out the government for using force to silence dissent and observed that some people have been incarcerated for expressing their views in the lead-up to the polls.

“Many countries in Africa have witnessed the shrinking of the democratic space through the increased use of force to silence dissenting voices. As Victor Hugo once said, “An invasion of armies can be resisted; an invasion of ideas cannot be resisted.”7 ‘Force can never erase the longing in the people’s hearts for freedom and accountability. Governments that ignore this may last for a while, propped up as they are by armies, but in the long run, they will not succeed” they warned.

“We can tolerate political differences and we can learn from each other what to add to our own political vision and how to market it without the shedding of blood. Violence should never be a tool employed in politics. As Pope Francis reminded us, “The instrument of politics is closeness, it is about confronting problems, understanding them….it is about something we have forgotten how to do: persuasion,” the bishops stressed.

In the pastoral letter, the bishops pose a rhetorical question to the people, “We are witnesses, in our own times, of this abuse of power. What can we do to make this election different, before, during and after?”

The answer, they say has to begin with an examination of conscience, adding “the holy season of Lent that calls us to repentance can point us to an answer. There is no repentance that does not touch the core of our being. Whatever good we desire for our country must begin with us as individuals. “Authentic social changes are effective and lasting only to the extent that they are based on resolute changes in personal conduct.”