Churches call for prayers as election-related violence escalates in Zimbabwe

Published June 20, 2008

Churches in Zimbabwe and worldwide have called for prayers in advance of a presidential run-off election in the southern African country, where more than 75 people are reported to have died in politically motivated violence in advance of the poll.”We have seen a disturbing trend where cases of violence are on the increase,” said Useni Sibanda, co-ordinator of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, which has begun midday prayers in Harare to pray for a peaceful resolution to the country’s political crisis.In Geneva, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches said it was calling for the 75 million members of the worldwide Reformed family of churches to observe a day of prayer for the people of Zimbabwe on June 22 ahead of the presidential poll on June 27.”Credible reports reaching us indicate a blatant intimidation of voters, and people being tortured. Some have died,” said Rev. Setri Nyomi, the Reformed alliance’s general secretary in a letter to its 214 churches around the world. “This current spate of violence and intimidation seems to be targeted at those who did not vote for the ruling party, especially in some specific rural areas,” said Mr. Nyomi, a Presbyterian from Ghana.On June 19, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party said that the bodies of four of its youth members, who were abducted from their homes two days earlier by suspected militia from President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party, had been found in Chitungwiza, a township 20 km. south of Harare.When Zimbabweans go to the polls on June 27, they will vote in a second round contest between Mr. Mugabe, who has ruled the southern African country since independence in 1980, and Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition MDC.According to official results that the MDC has disputed, neither candidate gained an overall majority in the first round of voting on March 29.The MDC said that since the previous vote, at least 70 of its supporters have been killed, and 3,000 injured, while a further 200 could not be accounted for after attacks by suspected ruling party activists. The ruling Zanu-PF party has accused the opposition of killing five of its supporters, and burning down homes in what Mr. Mugabe described as, “barbaric acts.” Observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Pan African Parliament have been deployed ahead of the election but opposition politicians say that despite the arrival of observers, violence has continued unabated.In recent weeks, police have raided offices of human rights and church groups, including the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe, and Ecumenical Support Services, and arrested a number of their workers. After the attorney general refused to prosecute those arrested, they were cleared of charges and released.South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been pursuing mediation efforts on behalf of the SADC, was reported on June 19 to be seeking to have the June 27 poll cancelled in favour of talks on the creation of a unity government for Zimbabwe.Meanwhile, in a joint letter, 12 British Anglican, Roman Catholic and Free Church leaders, whose individual churches or organizations have partners in Zimbabwe, have called on the SADC nations to “redouble” their efforts to ensure fair elections in Zimbabwe.Writing to President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia, who is president of SADC, the church leaders say, “We respectfully request SADC to redouble its efforts to assist Zimbabweans to end the violence and intimidation, and ensure that Zimbabwe abides by the SADC principles and guidelines governing democratic elections.”


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