The decision by the Zimbabwean government and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to begin talks today to put an end to the country’s political crisis provides “a little hope” but it’s still “too early to say” whether this would bring about a “sustainable solution,” said Harare Bishop Sebastian Bakare, who is attending the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops.
“The ruling system is so oppressive that it has denied the people their human rights, including religious freedom”, said Bishop Bakare. “My diocese continues to suffer persecution. We have been denied the freedom to worship.” He said that anti-riot police have barred Anglicans from attending the church services at the city’s Anglican Cathedral because the deposed diocesan bishop, Nolbert Kunonga, is a strong supporter of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. (Last December, Bishop Bakare succeeded Mr. Kunonga, who was stripped off his clergy licence by the church of the Province of Central Africa following his decision to pull the Anglican diocese of Harare out of the regional division of the denomination.)
Speaking at a press conference, Bishop Bakare said what Zimbabweans need urgently are “a deep sense of security without fear, the basic necessities of food and medicines” and a climate where “the rule of law is observed and human dignity is respected.”
In a moving account of his church’s situation, Bishop Bakare said many Zimbabwean Anglicans have “stood up to anti-riot police.” “It’s their church that they’re fighting for…That’s the courage that people have developed…This is the context that we have to witness to, where preaching the Good News becomes a challenge.”
Bishop Bakare said that he remained “very fearful” about the outcome of the talks between President Mugabe and the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, because the country’s history has shown that opposition parties end up being swallowed by the ruling party. President Mugabe and Mr. Tsvagirai signed an agreement on Monday that committed them to two weeks of negotiations with mediators from South Africa. The two sides had previously been deadlocked over negotiations since Mr. Mugabe was re-elected June 27 in a second run-off election that Mr. Tsvangirai boycotted because of violence against his supporters.
“I want to believe that the opposition side is aware that Mugabe isn’t there to hand them power,” he said.
He said that the church has been trying to bring a message of hope despite the growing violence and economic collapse. “How does the church give hope when people are hungry? When the unemployment rate is 80 per cent? What is the good news that I speak? I tell people that powers come and go but people remain,” said Bishop Bakare, who had been pulled out from retirement to save the beleaguered diocese. “I tell them to pray that God may intervene, and take care of his creation and liberate the people of Zimbabwe.”
Asked how he felt about the fact that, while his church and his country were facing life-threatening issues, a major part of the Lambeth Conference was being set aside to discuss divisions over homosexuality, Bishop Bakare said, “I think that we’ve got different issues. Every nation, every group has its issues. In Zimbabwe, our burning issues are poverty and employment. But it doesn’t mean that we will have nothing to do with other issues.”
Bishop Bakare also said that it was not accurate to say that all Anglican churches in Africa adopt the same stand on issues. “The churches are so diverse in their application of theology that to come up with one African church is not possible,” he said.
A majority of the 200 bishops who have boycotted the Lambeth Conference because of the presence of bishops with more liberal views on homosexuality have come from Africa.
Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, primate of the Anglican Church of Australia and official spokesperson at Lambeth, said that one bishop who would have been the sole representative of the Anglican Church of Nigeria had sent a fax saying he would come, but hasn’t arrived. This would mean that all 64 provinces of the Anglican Communion, except for Nigeria and Uganda, are represented by their bishops at the conference.