The Zimbabwean government has summoned the Vatican representative in Harare over growing criticism by Catholic bishops of the country’s human rights record.
The move follows a scathing letter send by local clergy accusing President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime of abusing power in its crackdown on political activists, and of rampant corruption.
The letter reads: “The crackdown on dissent is unprecedented. Is this the Zimbabwe we want? To have a different opinion does not mean to be an enemy. It is precisely from the contrast of opinions that the light comes. Our government automatically labels anyone thinking differently as an enemy of the country: that is an abuse …
“Suppression of people’s anger can only serve to deepen the crisis and take the nation into deeper crisis.”
The bishops said corruption in the country had reached alarming levels.
The letter, sent on 14 August, continues: “Government and civic society are agreed that corruption is [choking] the economy, and compromising our justice system. While there is this acknowledgement there hasn’t been equally a serious demonstration by government to rid the country of this scourge.”
The clergy said an urgent solution to the Zimbabwean crisis was needed.
The bishops have also thrown their weight behind the #Zimbabweanlivesmatter movement, which was trending on social media early this month.
The government said it was offended by the letter, which it describes as “inappropriately prescriptive and grossly disrespectful”.
Mnangagwa told his party’s politburo meeting: “It is most unfortunate when men of the cloth begin to use the pulpit to advance a nefarious agenda for detractors of our country.”
Ziyambi Ziyambi, the justice minister, said: “Government is compelled to engage the Vatican to ascertain whether such statements reflect the official attitude of the Holy See towards Zimbabwe’s leadership or whether these are merely the views of the various individuals concerned.”
Ziyambi maintained that there was no crisis in Zimbabwe and indicated that the foreign affairs minister, Sibusiso Moyo, would meet the local Vatican representative to discuss the matter.
The Southern African Catholic bishops released a statement in solidarity with the Zimbabwean bishops.
This is the first time the Catholic church has spoken out on the growing human rights abuses by the Zimbabwean government.
The Booker Prize longlisted author Tsitsi Dangarembga, journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and politician Jacob Ngarivhume are the latest to be arrested for protesting against corruption. Chin’ono and Ngarivhume have spent the past month on remand in prison after being denied bail.