Sunday, July 24, 2005

A Crime against Humanity

We, Christians Together for Justice and Peace, an informal, ecumenical group of church leaders in Bulawayo, write to express a sense of outrage at the most recent assault by the ruling powers upon the homeless and destitute in our land. We are aware that what we have witnessed here in Bulawayo over the last few days is part of a coordinated, national strategy by the ruling party. Our concern is for all the victims across this country of the utterly repugnant Operation Murambatsvina. Nevertheless our particular perspective is that of those to whom has been given the divine mandate to speak on behalf of the voiceless and the disempowered victims of injustice in the Matabeleland region.

We are appalled at the downward spiral of lawlessness and violence which we are witnessing among the very people who in any free, democratic and law-respecting society are charged with upholding the law and protecting the innocent – namely the police, the army and the security services. The trend that we observe for those employed in these services to fail to distinguish between the interests of ZANU PF on the one hand and of the State on the other, and to respect only the authority of the party, is deeply disturbing. The sustained attack upon the poorest of the poor in defiance of the laws of this land and of all the constitutional rights of the victims (who now run into millions), justifies the oft-made assertion that those who now rule Zimbabwe are in a state of undeclared war upon their own people. The people need to be rescued urgently from this destructive tyranny.

When we witness, as some of us have in the last 24 hours, uniformed police in full anti-riot gear unlawfully invading church premises late at night or in the early hours of the morning and forcibly removing hundreds, including the frail elderly and babes-in-arms, then we know we are dealing here with what can only be called a crime against humanity. When one of our number, a respected church leader who attended the scene in order to express his Christian solidarity with the victims of that crime, is subsequently arrested and interrogated in a hostile and threatening manner by police details some of whom we have reason to suspect are youth militia dressed in ZRP uniforms, then we know that our beloved country has become a fully-fledged police state. And when, the day before this outrage, another of our number who has exercised a pastoral ministry to some of these displaced persons for many years, is interrupted in the course of delivering a sermon to his parishioners at the holding camp to which they have been forcibly removed, and he is told to leave the camp immediately, then we know that those who now rule Zimbabwe are engaged in an undeclared war upon the Church. (The authorities at the holding camp in Helensvale have subsequently confirmed that no pastor or church representative is to set foot in the camp again without the express permission of the (ZANU PF) governor)

We view these latest moves of the ZANU PF regime as deeply sinister, and have the gravest concern for the welfare of the victims of Operation Murambatsvina who have now been forcibly removed from their homes (and temporary places of refuge) twice in a matter of weeks. It is abundantly clear to us that the regime has made no serious provision for re-housing and has no coherent policy for these victims of its own brutality, save for sweeping them out of the way – as so much “trash”. For their welfare we are now bound to look to the international community and specifically to the United Nations to intervene. Tragically the same is true of the nation as a whole as it seeks to be rescued from the death grip of a tyrannical power.

Let the United Nations and the international community take note that a crime against humanity is being perpetrated at this moment in Zimbabwe, and let them act accordingly and with all speed to spare us from further unimaginable suffering.

Christians Together for Justice and Peace
July 21, 2005

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Statement from Churches in Bulawayo

21 July 2005

The churches in Bulawayo have been working hard to alleviate the suffering of the displaced people. They consulted with the police commissioners and the Governor and Resident Minister for Bulawayo.

The churches in Bulawayo were allowed to shelter internally displaced people who were willing to be resettled in the rural areas. This was agreed at a stakeholders meeting held at the Social Welfare Provincial Officer’s office on the 12th of July 2005. This was the understanding between the police, social welfare, Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and the churches. The rest of the displaced people had to be moved to the transit camp. Churches as part of the key stakeholders were allowed to pitch a tent at the transit camp and had a representative there at all times.

On the 19th of July, the representative of the Churches in Bulawayo at the Transit Camp was asked to leave in the middle of a church service and threatened that he should not come back without written authority from the Governor. Efforts to get an explanation from the government officials were fruitless. On the 20th of July 2005 at about 9.30pm the police forced themselves into a number of churches where these people had been kept. The churches had made plans to move them to the rural areas. They had also prepared food packs, blankets and seed packs to be distributed. In spite of all the arrangements and agreements that had been made on behalf of these people the police went on to commandeer them into open trucks. We watched with horror as the operation unfolded.

Included in these people were the sick, some who were on Anti- Ritro Virus (ARVs) medication, the elderly, women and little children. One woman was even pulled into the truck because she was frail. Children who were already asleep were woken up by the riot police and frog marched into the open police trucks. People who had corrugated sheets, metal, timber and all that were left of their belongings were packed like junk. This was the story in all the churches where they picked up the people through out the city. This operation was undertaken under the cover of darkness between 9pm and 5am. The removal of the innocent, poor, weak, voiceless and vulnerable members of society by riot police was uncalled for and unnecessary. It is inhuman, brutal and insensitive and in total disregard of human rights and dignity. These people are not criminals but bona fide citizens of this nation. It seems the crime, they committed is that they are poor. It seems the government does not have plans for poor people. This is evidenced by the destruction of their simple structures and meager property they owned. Four people died some are traumatized, depressed while others are now insane because of the situation.

As the church and the clergy we would like to register our protest in the strongest sense of the word. The government misled us to believe that what they discussed with us was in good faith. There was no need to take the leadership of the churches in Bulawayo for questioning and later the detention of one of our pastors on spurious allegations. This was uncalled for, intimidation and harassment. They handcuffed him and threatened him in a manner that is unwarranted. There is no rule of law. There is impunity, which demonstrates a tyrannical rule in our beloved country. The country faces major challenges of collapsing economy, poverty and shortage of foreign currency which should be the concern of the government. The poor people are only symptomatic to the crisis.

We would like to restate our understanding of the agreed position. The churches in Bulawayo are part of the stakeholders and should be allowed to play their part. The churches advocate for a permanent place of resettlement and release of the people that intend to go back to their rural areas. School children have been displaced by this operation which has denied them the right to education. We call on the government and its officials to abide by the laws and not to be above it. The rule of law must be restored. The churches should be allowed to continue with their God given mandate and mission to be involved with the displaced people as agreed to by the government earlier.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Bulawayo update

From our inside correspondent:

9 July 2005

No news is not necessarily good news. Whilst the immediate impact of “Operation Drive out Trash” has abated somewhat, the suffering continues. This weekend marks 4 weeks since the police / militia invaded the Killarney settlement, and the displaced people are still in the same desperate situation that they were in then, it’s just that this is no longer “news” but “olds”.

The police are still going round the old established suburbs and breaking down homes, or forcing people to break them down themselves. I read of one place in Harare where people were going to be charged a fee of USD150 for the regime to break down their houses, if they didn’t demolish their own homes themselves…. the brazenness is unbelievable. At least the owners get to salvage door frames and window frames and so on, if they do the demolition themselves.

We pray that the visit of Ms Tibaijuka (UN Envoy for Habitat) will yield some hard-hitting words from that organization. She certainly seems to have had the opportunity to witness first-hand the devastation, despite the regime’s efforts to thwart her.

For those involved in assisting the displaced in Bulawayo, a well co-ordinated team manages the logistics centrally, bringing food and other basic necessities to the churches who are temporarily housing these people. However, the day to day issues take up a lot of time, and most other church work is put on the back-burner, which is fine – many of us sense God keenly at work in our churches at this time and speaking to us. Thank God that his grace is sufficient!

The authorities are still talking about setting up a holding camp some 30kms outside the city on a farm, but tents are still to be pitched, and toilet facilities still to be dug. At least the church now has a firm say in what will happen to these people, as we have been involved in the humanitarian relief aspect from the beginning. But we fear that it will be a case of “out of sight, out of mind”, once these people are moved out there. When we struggle to get petrol or diesel to make that short trip from our homes to town, how many of us are going to actually make the sacrifice of time and fuel to go out and visit the people in the camps once they’re set up? Most likely, if it goes ahead, it will become yet another near-permanent settlement, and no plans to properly re-house will ever be carried through to completion. That would leave the inhabitants way out of town, and hence far from any source of income (however meagre) – so some at least would migrate back to the city again in time.

Please continue praying for these people, and for the issues raised above. We pray for a miracle, and that these events will prompt more people to raise their voices in protest at the evil which we see. In the words of Isaiah:

‘Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and thou takest no knowledge of it?’ – “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58: 3, 6-7).