Church leaders urge Zimbabwe government to heed citizens' protests

Zimbabwe's church leaders called on the government to listen to the cries of its suffering citizens, warning that their grievances could "soon explode into civil unrest if not addressed."

Church groups—including the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches and the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe—criticized the politicizing of "people's genuine grievances" and the harassment of churches and their leaders.

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In a July 14 statement, they condemned the brutality of police officers' treatment of protesters in demonstrations against grim economic conditions and noted their concern at the arrest of Pastor Evan Mawarire and the intimidation of other church leaders "speaking on behalf of powerless people."

On July 13, a Harare court freed Pastor Mawarire, who organized the largest national stay-away strike in nearly a decade; the court ruled that police violated his rights.

The church leaders said among problems that need urgent attention are the collapse of companies—partially or wholly owned by the government—because of "rampant corruption and high levels of unaccountability and impunity." They also warned of the "imposition of restrictions on imports, thus crippling cross-border business and destroying livelihoods for thousands of Zimbabweans."

Massive unemployment, "moves to impose bond notes despite clear resistance" and the "loss of trust in the government's ability to pay its workforce" are other severe problems, they said.

President Robert Mugabe's administration, which spends more than 80 percent of its revenue on wages for state workers, faces a worsening cash shortage. In a bid to end hyperinflation, it abandoned its own currency in 2009 and uses mainly U.S. dollars.

Most people in Zimbabwe, with a population of close to 16 million, survive on $1 a day. They eke out a living in small-scale informal trade, mostly selling goods bought in South Africa.

The church leaders said they are alarmed and saddened by the "political, social and economic meltdown, which has caused untold suffering of the masses and the resultant civic unrest and violence that has erupted across the land, and the failure by our government and almost all political leaders to be responsive to the cries of our people."

Conflicts within 92-year-old Mugabe's ruling party "are distracting the government from dealing with real economic and social issues that are affecting the country," they said.

The government should address "these genuine concerns of the citizens to avoid the total collapse of the state," the church leaders said, noting the "need to act justly and mercifully on behalf of the poor."

Noting that Zimbabweans' constitutional right to protest must be protected, the church leaders called on the government to prosecute law enforcement agents found to have brutalized protesters.

Because Zimbabweans "have lost confidence and trust in our government," there is an urgent need for a national dialogue between the government and others to find a lasting solution to the crisis, they said.

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