19 November 2017

‘Guard the people of Zimbabwe
from harm. Let justice
and compassion prevail’

With Bishop Chad Gandiya of Harare during his visit to Dublin in 2011

Patrick Comerford

Watching President Robert Mugabe’s speech live within the past hour, it seems incredible that he has refused to resign. It is possible that he tried to pull the wool over the eyes of the military leaders who sat beside them, and read his own speech.

It is difficult to understand that a military coup could fail so visibly, with everyone watches, and I wonder how he is going to facedown tomorrow’s move for an impeachment.

Perhaps the generals could not force him to resign, but they have no given him plenty of ground for his impeachment tomorrow.

Many years ago, I was frustrated and angry when I was invited to a lecture in UCD and dinner with President Mugabe. I had campaigned and protested for years on his behalf, joining marches and pickets demanding democracy and freedom in Zimbabwe.

That evening in the Belfield campus of University College Dublin, Mugabe was brusque, arrogant and rude. It was a personal source of curiosity that while the Irish Independent could invite me, as then Foreign Desk Editor of The Irish Times to dinner with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela, my own newspaper was inviting me to meet Robert Mugabe, who had betrayed so much that I had campaigned for.

Over the past week, Anglican leaders in Zimbabwe have reported that the Church and the country are safe following the military takeover that appears to have taken place on Tuesday night.

The Right Revd Chad Gandiya, Bishop of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, described what was then though to be the ousting of President Mugabe by the army as ‘one of the most peaceful takeovers anywhere in the world’ and added that ‘people are going about their daily work and chores as if nothing had happened.’

However, Bishop Chad is also urging Christians everywhere to pray for Zimbabwe ‘during these uncertain times.’

The Most Revd Albert Chama, Archbishop of Central Africa, also called for prayer, commenting that ‘this sad situation needs more than a political solution.’

I am a trustee of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and have served on its council and committees. USPG is a long-standing partner of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, with a relationship that dates back to 1891.

I have known Bishop Chad since he was the USPG Regional Desk Officer for Africa, working from London. He bravely returned to Zimbabwe after his election as Bishop of Harare, despite Mugabe’s efforts to divide the church and his threats of violence.

Later, Bishop Chad gracefully accepted my invitation to preach in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute in 2011, to deliver a guest lecture, and to visit Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

USPG has prepared the following prayer:

God of peace,
we add our prayers to those of the Church in Zimbabwe.
Into their political upheaval, we ask that peace, love and unity will prevail.
Give wisdom to those in authority.
Guard the people of Zimbabwe from harm.
Let justice and compassion prevail.
And bless your Church as is offers care and preaches hope, tolerance and forgiveness.
In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

These are the statements in full issued by Bishop Chad and Archbishop Chama:

The full statement from the Right Revd Dr Chad N Gandiya, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Harare (16.11.2017):

Beloved in Christ, Warm and cordial greetings from your brothers and sisters in the Anglican Diocese of Harare, Zimbabwe.

Political developments of Tuesday night in Zimbabwe have necessitated the writing of this letter to all our friends so that you are informed and know what to pray for as you think and pray for us.

We woke up on Wednesday morning to constant announcement on Zimbabwe TV by one of the army generals that the army had been forced into action to remove ‘criminals’ around the president and that the president and his family were safe, and that their security was guaranteed. He went on to say that they were targeting criminals around the president whose actions were causing social and economic suffering in the country. He also said that the situation would return to normalcy as soon as they had accomplished their mission. Obviously, this was a big shock to most Zimbabweans even though most people believed something was bound to happen sooner rather than later.

The army was in control of the airwaves in the country and had stationed tanks strategically around the city. They asked the nation to remain calm, limit their travels to when it was necessary, such as when going to work. It is true that in last few months we have seen purges in the ruling party, shortages of cash in the banks, and unprecedented [price] increases in basic food commodities among other things.

The situation in the country remains calm but tense and people are going about their daily work and chores as if nothing had happened. We had a clergy workshop in Harare without any disturbances. The diocesan office is open and functioning well. However, we have decided to cancel a big diocesan annual Thanksgiving service that we hold every year to mark our return from exile because we don’t want to take any chances, especially as we would be expecting thousands of our members to travel various distances to attend the important service.

The events in the country are still unfolding. We thank God that so far there is no violence on the streets, the atmosphere remains calm and everything has been done peacefully. I think that this is one of the most peaceful takeovers anywhere in the world!

We are therefore calling on you our friends to join us in praying for Zimbabwe and her people during these uncertain times. Please pray for the following:

Peaceful resolution of the current situation.

As the Army has appealed to the Church, pray for peace, love, unity and development.

Safety of all people in Zimbabwe.

That those arrested be treated humanely and that justice is seen to be done.

That the Church continues to offer pastoral care and preach a message of hope, tolerance, forgiveness and nation building as well as giving wise guidance to all people.

That respect for human rights is valued.

The prayer for Africa is very apt in our situation and so pray:

God bless Zimbabwe.

Guide her leaders.

Guard her people.

And give her peace. Amen!

The full statement from the Most Revd Albert Chama, Archbishop and Primate of the Church of the Province of Central Africa (15.11.2017):

As Primate of the Province of Central Africa and chair of Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa, I write to express our concerns as a Church over the recent political situation in Zimbabwe. We have received messages and calls from the Primates of the Anglican Church worldwide and also from Lambeth Palace assuring us of their prayers.

We are also aware of initiatives by SADC the political blog in the region. However, this sad situation needs more than a political solution. It needs all people of faith to pray, all citizens to engage and ensure a peaceful transition in Zimbabwe.

This call is based on our vision of Christ the prince of peace and the incarnate God who in dwelling with us affirmed the dignity of each one of us and our environment. We want to assure all our parishioners and all Zimbabweans of our prayers and support and hope for calm and stability at this time.

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