1.On the 16th of September 2020, the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) Executive held separate meetings with His Excellency President E.D.
Mnangagwa and the Zanu-PF leadership. On the same day we also met with the MDC- Alliance President Nelson Chamisa, and then later met with the leadership of the MDC- T, led by the then President, Dr Thokozani Khupe.
The aim of these meetings was to acknowledge the many efforts government was making to address a myriad of challenges facing the nation and pointing out to what the ZHOCD considered the missing link— namely, the absence of basic levels of National Consensus.
The ZHOCD proposed the establishment of such a National Consensus Process as outlined below. This communication directed to the ZHOCD member churches and broader citizenry is an invitation for them to study this proposal to see if they resonate with this call.
B.THE CHURCH AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT IN ZIMBABWE
2.The ZHOCD, which is making this call, is made up of four mother bodies namely the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), and the Union of the Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe Africa (UDACIZA).
Together, these Christian bodies represent more than 80% of the Zimbabwean population.
The ZHOCD has its origins in the Heads of Denominations (HoD), which was a loose coalition established in the early missionary periods when the various heads of denominations came together to coordinate their policy in engagement with the state and in sharing perspectives on how missionary work could be executed.
3.It will be important to recall that the churches in Zimbabwe have always had a clear appreciation not only of the separation of the realms of religion and politics but also their complementarity.
The church never sees its calling as being to usurp the power of the state, although it encourages its members to be faithful and honest actors in the party-political arena.
The church sees in its moral calling the responsibility of supporting, and critically engaging with the state for the common good, as well as forthtelling in times when power seeks its own ends.
4.For this reason, since the early missionary and colonial days in Rhodesia, the churches forged a development-orientated working relationship with the state.
The church immensely contributed to the liberation struggle through local support and international
solidarity. Entities like the World Council of Churches worked through their Programme to Combat Racism, launched in May 1969, and widely credited with the emergence of a robust and consistent international conscience on the Rhodesia question.
Local ecumenical bodies and individual churches sheltered and provided supplies, clothing, and food to freedom fighters, and supported their families with scholarships, family needs, and protective hosting arrangements.
Until today, the churches provide more than 60% of health services in the rural areas. The church is the second largest provider of education services next to the government. All this is to complement the work of the government.
5.Churches of the missionary tradition, though they maintain close international ecumenical ties, have local leadership which deploys available human and financial resources to meet the local needs, including the promotion of the national development agenda of unity, peace, justice and prosperity for all Zimbabweans.
We the churches that make up the ZHOCD, have our agenda shaped locally for the benefit of our citizens in honest and non-partisan ways, complementary to the state.
6.At key moments in the history of the nation, the church has sought to discern together with the whole nation how actions of the state can be supported and complemented to improve the wellbeing of the citizens.
Following over a decade of the war of liberation, the church closely supported and closely followed the Lancaster House negotiations.
7.At Independence the churches aligned their programmes towards the reconstruction agenda of the state. The church raised concerns regarding the Gukurahundi as well as provided evidence of the violations though the CCJP publication, “Breaking the Silence”.
The church celebrated the Unity Accord in 1987 but insisted that fuller national healing needed to be realized.
In the 1990s, the church raised concerns regarding how the Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP) affected social spending—resulting in the deterioration of social services—and, invoking the scriptural precepts of ‘jubilee’, campaigned for international debt relief, seeking to minimize the impact of the debt albatross on the neck of the nation. In similar vein, the church was at the forefront of seeking a sustainable and inclusive process of dealing with the national debt, leading to the birth of the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) in 2000. Consistently in the 1990s, the church also raised concerns regarding the slow pace of addressing the Land question.
8.The church also led the early calls for the development of a homegrown constitution, resulting in the birth of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) in 1997.
The church was the first non-state actor to support the massive opening up of domestic electoral observation in the 1995 general elections—mobilizing, training and deploying 4000 monitors under the Church Monitors for Peace project, and thus contributing to the democratic process an endogenous praxis that was to lead to the birth of the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) and other electoral resourcing initiatives. In other words, the church has always been a key agent in shaping inclusive national vision complementary to the state.
This catalytic role has been and continues to be carried out with utmost impartiality, respect, but also honesty and forthrightness, in relationship with the state.
9.In response to economic decline, rising national tension and violence, coupled with poverty due to droughts and fallen production in the aftermath of the Fast-track Land Reform Program, the church sought to cultivate the development of a national vision to
address the many complex challenges as well as imagining an inclusive future. This resulted in the discussion document, the “Zimbabwe We Want”, which was launched by the former and late President, H.E. R.G. Mugabe in 2006.
10.The spirit of the “Zimbabwe we want document” was embodied in its values of Spirituality and Morality, Unity in diversity, Respect for human life and dignity, democratic freedoms, respect for other Persons, Democracy and good governance, participation and subsidiarity, Sovereignty, Patriotism and Loyalty, Gender equality, Social solidarity and promotion of the family, stewardship of creation, justice and the rule of law, service and accountability, promotion of the common good, option for the impoverished and the marginalized, and excellence.
11.The “Zimbabwe We Want” discussion document, envisioned the establishment and implementation of a homegrown constitution, establishment of an inclusive national economic and social transformation, sustainable resolution of the land question, and the realization of national reconciliation and healing.
12.The “Zimbabwe We Want” was a result of broad consultation among the members of the mother bodies of the ZHOCD. Although at first the government looked at the document with suspicion, they later embraced it. It is no surprise that much of the content of the “Zimbabwe We Want” discussion document was taken, sometimes verbatim, in the shaping of the various elements of the 2013 constitution. That is as it should be.
13.Some key aspects of the “Zimbabwe we Want” vision have been and are being met. But the spirit of a nation that envisions the future together has remained elusive. Over the years, the ZHOCD has become deeply concerned about the deepening deterioration of the intra and inter relationships among the political parties, the deepening fragmentation of society and the failure to find common ground in resolving the deep-seated challenges facing the nation.
14.These failures are typified by how the two main political parties have managed their internal leadership transitions resulting in deepening mistrust and lack of confidence.
The creation of a ‘winner-takes-all’ environment means that even the electoral processes of the future are likely not to provide sustainable pathways towards a united approach to resolving the national challenges.
Realizing that the nation was in a gridlock which could not be resolved peacefully, on the 30th of October 2019, the ZHOCD proposed what was viewed as a possible way out, namely the postponement of the elections and the establishment of an inclusive government system to (a) oversee the implementation of the constitution, (b) the restoration of relationships including healing past wounds, and
(c) bringing predictability in the economic environment. The “Sabbath Call”, as the proposal was called, envisioned a period of seven years to reset the nation by allowing key relationships to be restored.
15.While at first there were many contradicting responses, the two main political parties, the MDC and Zanu-PF rejected the proposal on two grounds: the first one being that the proposal was unconstitutional, and the second one questioning the detailed implementation modalities. With time, many who gave it further reflection realized that it was possible to implement the Sabbath Call constitutionally, and that there were many implementation possibilities, only if there was political will. Such requisite political will was hampered by the concern from the ruling party that accepting the proposal would
appear to be an admission of failure. The main opposition was concerned that an open embrace of such a proposal could give a “lifeline to the ruling party like they did during the GNU.” Looked at from this perspective, it was clear that the proposal was rejected for political expediency and not for the sake of healing the nation.
16.Today the nation remains riddled by the same challenges of the past complicated by the Covid-19 crisis. These compounded challenges have not only deprived Zimbabweans of a dignified life in the present but threaten to rob future generations of their hope. These issues require comprehensive solutions.
This is not in any way to say that the government is not doing anything about these challenges. On the contrary, the recognizable efforts of the state are not adequate, in the absence of broad national consensus towards lasting solutions.
17.The ZHOCD argues that without a certain level of consensus among key stakeholders and the broader citizenry, the efforts by the governing party to realize true peace, unity, justice and prosperity for all our people, will be futile, not only now but also in the future. The ZHOCD is concerned that without addressing the root causes of mistrust and lack of confidence, the nation will get stuck in stagnation and further deterioration until another breakpoint such as we had in 2017.
18.The ZHOCD in consultation with other civil society leaders, has realized that this failure of national consensus is manifesting itself more evidently in the following five pressing national challenges:
18.1Even though the government has done a lot to respond to humanitarian crises like the droughts, Cyclone Idai, and now, COVID-19, more than 50% of the population remains exposed to famine according to national and WFP statistics.
People are hungry, desperate for help and there is growing hopelessness at the pace of accessing basic resources. With half the population in need of emergency food relief by the end of 2020, and the government failing to attract adequate international humanitarian support or even the COVID-19 response support given to other countries, the nation carries a huge burden which it cannot address adequately on its own without the support of all of its citizens and other key stakeholders.
Although there is expectation of better harvest due to the much appreciated rains countrywide, these rains will be too much to allow for good harvest in some places.
18.2On the health front, the President has given significance to the task of restoring health services by appointing the Vice-President to provide leadership in addressing the challenges within the health sector. But it is our considered view that the impasse between health workers and their employer has not been given the attention it requires.
The concerns of the health personnel remain outstanding and these can only be resolved through a consultative rather than a command approach. In this context of COVID-19, dysfunctional hospitals put the nation at risk. The range of all these humanitarian needs requires a collective and holistic approach. The same can be said about the education sector where challenges between teachers and the
government and many other conditions of education are yearning for lasting solutions that can only be found through national consensus.
18.3The ‘second Republic’ has made economic recovery its priority by supporting the mining sector and agriculture. Although the tourism industry has been affected by COVID-19, it remains a great potential for economic recovery. However, maintaining the conviction that we have a rational USA-dollar-stable economics when most workers are paid in local currency is being untruthful. The challenge of currency requires a lasting solution on the basis of dialogue among all key stakeholders. When citizens do not trust their own national currency, no legislation will arrest its downward spiral. The majority of citizens who happen to be self- employed are affected negatively by these factors. The economy remains subdued and is not serving the needs of the broad sector of Zimbabweans even though they may be claims to the contrary.
18.4The government has not been in short supply of economic policy blueprints. In the absence of a mutually shared national economic vision based on national consensus, these economic blueprints will fail to find fertile ground to germinate and grow. It is our prayer that these blueprints including the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy and the National Development Strategy 1 will reap positive results. However, in the absence of a positive environment born out of a comprehensive national dialogue process leading to a national consensus, the aspirations of these blueprints will not be realized. In the absence of a comprehensive international re- engagement process, Zimbabwe has no chance of raising resources for the NDS1 or even any other strategies. Without an attractive investor environment born out of national convergence, there will be too few resources to capitalize the much-needed industrial revitalization.
18.5Though the calls and enhancing the powers of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) are commendable, there is a strong perception that corruption and policy inconsistency are major contributors to an exclusionary economy that continues to marginalize many. The economy requires a trusting environment, and this cannot be built without broad national consensus.
National reconciliation situation
18.6The signing into law of the National Peace and Reconciliation and Commission (NPRC) is one of the important steps taken by this government when it was inaugurated. It gave promise to the possibility of bringing much needed mutually acceptable closure to the hurts of the past, and to usher in the healing of relationships among Zimbabweans. However, the nation remains deeply fragmented, with key individual and institutional actors working at cross-purposes. The levels of mistrust and lack of confidence are too high. While differences are normal in any society, Zimbabwe is operating with such levels of polarization that any modest possibility for much needed cooperation is suffocated. Many victims of past hurts do not necessarily desire revenge for what they suffered. They are looking for a credible process of closure that can allow them to move on with their lives with dignity for themselves and for their loved ones. Without bringing past hurts to a mutually acceptable closure, the nation cannot move forward together. Such a process requires
full buy-in from all the affected communities and families. It also requires full confidence in the NPRC. This requires consensus. So, while the ZHOCD commends efforts and engagements in Matabeleland around the Gukurahundi, we are painfully aware that the levels of mistrust attending to these efforts will inhibit mutually acceptable closure.
Implementation of the Constitution and rule of law
18.7The ZHOCD is also aware of the government’s efforts to implement the constitution as well as the recommendations from the Motlanthe Commission and from the 2018 elections observers. We are also encouraged by the government’s efforts towards addressing the demands of the USA and EU targeted sanctions. We appreciate that the government has established inter-ministerial working committees to oversee and coordinate such processes. We are also encouraged by the government’s pronouncements that they are carrying out these reforms not to please outsiders but for the sake of the people of Zimbabwe. We are however also aware that there are many actions that are at cross-purposes with the vision of reengagement and engagement. While there is so much positive rhetoric, there seems to be so much negative actions that betray these efforts, for example, the increased rate of arrests of journalists and increased cases of abductions, even though the government rejects some of them as fake.
18.8In this context of deep national polarization and toxicity, even the reforms carried out like POSA to MOPA are not fully embraced by a wide range of key stakeholders. Rather, there are perceptions that the reforms are piecemeal and partisan, and in some cases amount to giving with the right hand while taking with the left. Such perceptions have also suggested that what is now seen as a partisan justice system cannot respect the rights of citizens. The fact that no prosecutions have been made public of the soldiers who shot and killed citizens in broad day light in August 2018 and that no one has been arrested for the abduction and torture of the young boy, Tawanda Muchehiwa, paints a negative picture on Zimbabwe. Such and other reports which sometimes the government has denied are not helping the situation.
18.9The perceptions run deep that the process of implementation of the constitution is deliberately slowed down and shaped by partisan interests. The process of implementing the constitution should be a non-partisan process. Though a constitutional implementation and reform process can be carried out by the governing party, it is better served when it is supported by all citizens and key stakeholders. There is need for consensus in this regard.
18.10Last but not least, the above challenges have had a huge bearing on Zimbabwe’s standing before the family of nations. We remain internationally isolated, with sanctions threatening international investment and access to resources needed for kickstarting our economy. In spite of our payments to international lobbyists to spruce up our image, we remain a despised nation. Such a negative image results in difficulties in accessing international financial resources. It is our conviction, that the government on its own, cannot mend this broken reputation without deploying the moral, social and technical capital of all its citizens and stakeholders. We believe that we need a national consensus on how this could be executed.
D.THE ZHOCD PROPOSAL
19.In light of the above, the ZHOCD concludes that the missing link between Zimbabwe’s efforts towards finding a lasting and effective resolution to its challenges is adequate levels of consensus, unity and common purpose among its key individuals and institutional stakeholders. We are in no way seeking a homogenous nation; we are not talking about total agreement among Zimbabweans. Rather we are talking about the requisite minimum levels of agreement, about common ground, among key national stakeholders.
20.In making this call, we are working with the assumption that, (a) nations prosper when their key stakeholders have relatively strong levels of consensus, (b) Zimbabwe currently lacks adequate levels of such consensus among its key actors and sectors, (c) the President of Zimbabwe and the leadership around him has the constitutional mandate, political responsibility, moral obligation and legal possibility to oversee the realization of such consensus building, (d) where a nation is riddled with high levels of mistrust, the President could leverage on those trusted institutions with high levels of credibility such as the church, to convene and facilitate a credible process of consensus building.
21.In this light, the ZHOCD is inviting all citizens and different stakeholders to consider such a National Consensus process. As a church body, we are particularly inviting our own constituency, the church, to prayerfully consider this invitation in the realization that God will bless us as a nation if we are genuinely united on the basis of truthful engagement.
E.POSSIBLE RESULTS OF NATIONAL CONSENSUS
22.We must remain modest about what such a National Consensus Process could achieve. We are aware that in many cases consensus processes have failed due to lack of honesty and commitment driven by short term political goals. That is why we are sharing this with our own constituency so that they can appreciate what is at stake. We are confident that if all key stakeholders play their part and participate honestly in a broad-based and inclusive national consensus building process, the fortunes of Zimbabwe can be turned around in a short time.
23.We think if this process succeeds it will help us resolve the following issues:
23.1First, there are institutions and individuals with technical, network and moral capital who could help the government’s efforts in mobilizing resources for humanitarian response. National Consensus will unlock such moral, network and technical capital required to support the government in its efforts of mobilizing resources to address current humanitarian challenges of food insecurity, health and education. Multi- sectoral implementation structures resulting from a national consensus process could achieve more than is possible when the government is seeking to address these challenges in the present context of conflict, mistrust, and disharmony.
23.2Second, it is common knowledge that negative perception among citizens can have a huge bearing on economic growth. National Consensus will ensure that individual citizens, private and public sector players can work together to establish a new national social contract towards an inclusive economic vision. If the outcomes of the National Consensus process are adequately implemented, citizens will find pride and
confidence in the use of their local currency; they will invest locally; they will work sacrificially to contribute to national economic revival. Everyone will feel secure about the future and this will drastically reduce the perceived need for bunkering behaviours and corruption.
23.3Third, we have observed that even though some important strides have been made in addressing the hurts of the past, the process is looked upon with suspicion and even utter rejection especially within the affected communities. National Consensus will help the nation to agree on a mutually acceptable way of attending to the past hurts and violations in ways that guarantee finality. It will result in genuine reconciliation on the basis of truth and the willingness to forge a common future. Victims will receive acceptable redress while perpetrators will have a chance to seek clemency.
23.4Fourth, we have observed that the constitutional implementation and reform processes are not received with appreciation across the wider society. The justice delivery system is generally perceived as politicized and partial. National Consensus will increase citizens’ support and ownership of the constitutional implementation and reform process. It can build a new culture of constitutionalism and appreciation of the rule of law. Reforms will cease to be threatening to anyone as they will be carried out with mutual consideration and with an aim to start afresh.
23.5Fifth, the greatest benefit from such a National Consensus process is the image of the nation in the regional, continental and global arenas. Citizens as individuals and as a collective will use their moral, network and technical capital to influence the removal of sanctions and the responsible resolution of international debt arrears. The church particularly will be able to mobilize its international networks to promote international investment. This will result in the attraction of new investment. The best lobbyist for Zimbabwe is a Zimbabwean citizen who is justifiably proud of his or her nation. What we need, in our view, is such a process that can ignite a new sense of patriotism required to give a positive image of the nation to the world.
F.WHAT IS A NATIONAL CONSENSUS PROCESS?
24.Following periods of protracted conflict, major transitions, or national stagnation, a nation can put itself in a ‘reset’ mode by bringing together its key experts, political actors, community leaders, different state and quasi-state institutions, interest groups, religious groups and the broad citizenry to a structured national conversation resulting in collective reimagination of the future. This is what we mean by a National Consensus building process. Such a National Consensus Process could be convened between a month to three months depending on the envisaged levels of engagement and the depth of transformation.
25.It is also important to note that participants to the National Consensus Process can decide together on how binding the outcomes of such a process can be. A National Consensus process with Sovereign weight, will have sweeping implications including a bearing on the constitution. A non-sovereign consensus process will have outcomes that do not have legally binding effect although they can still inform policy direction in a fundamental way. A hybrid between the two processes will have certain levels of binding force on all participants. The process’ level of obligations and rights can also have a bearing on the commitments of participants and stakeholders. The success of the National Consensus Process is largely dependent on tolerance, honesty, and openness
among participants who aim for a win-win outcome. Trusted convening institutions or individuals will increase the credibility and integrity of the process. That is why the ZHOCD is offering itself as one such possible convenor if other stakeholders recognize it as such.
G.LEGAL, HISTORICAL AND MORAL FORCE OF THE PROPOSAL
26.The Church is imploring all stakeholders, but especially H.E. President Mnangagwa to consider this proposal with an open mind because it offers a possible way out of the deep malaise and the potential dangers in the futue. The constitution states as one of the president’s obligations to “promote unity and peace in the nation for the benefit and well-being of all the people of Zimbabwe” (Section 90(2)(a).)
27.But beyond this constitutional injunction, the President committed in his presidential acceptance speech of 24th of November 2017 that, “From events preceding this occasion, we stand apart as a unique nation driven by impulses of mutual tolerance, peace and unity which we have displayed in the past few weeks not withstanding our diverse political persuasions….That peace and harmony should be characteristic of how we relate to one another before, during and after the 2018 harmonised elections…” In the same speech the president further said, “The values of unity and peace cherished by all Zimbabweans are the enduring foundations for the desired goal of development, itself the third pillar of the trinity of Unity, Peace and Development espoused by my Party, Zanu-PF.” The President has an opportunity, not only to act on his promises, but also to establish his legacy as a uniter of the nation.
28.Further, the 2013 Zimbabwe Constitution in various places calls the nation towards unity and consensus as foundational. The preamble to the constitution points to a fundamental focus on “…Cherishing the freedom, equality, peace, justice, tolerance, prosperity and patriotism in search of new frontiers under a common destiny…”.
29.At Section 10, the constitution also states that “The State and every person, including juristic persons, and every institution and agency of government at every level, must promote national unity, peace and stability.”
30.Section 13(2) refers to the importance of involving the “people in the formulation and implementation of development plans and programmes that affect them.”
31.Apart from the above constitutional invocations, recent commissions and communications have implored Zimbabwe to seek a new path towards unity. For example, the Motlanthe Commission recommended “Nation building and reconciliation including an initiative for multi-party dialogue and cooperation” (Recommendation F). While we recognize the president’s efforts in establishing multi-party dialogues under the Political Actors’ Dialogue (POLAD), the broader “Nation building and reconciliation” involving non-political actors remains an outstanding task.
32.Further, both the SADC and EU reports on the 2018 harmonized elections identified mistrust and distrust as some of the challenges facing Zimbabwe and encouraged ongoing process of stakeholder engagement “to review the political and social environment” (SADC) as a way of building a democratic culture.
33.This proposal being made by the churches has historical precedence in that at key moments in the history of this nation, national leadership embarked on various forms of consensus building processes resulting, for example, in the Lancaster Agreement in 1979, in the Unity Accord in 1987, and in the Global Political Agreement in 2008. At all those turning points, the compelling circumstances of the moment were managed in a manner that respected the existing constitution, while, in a spirit of constitutionalism, steps were taken towards much-needed solutions.
34.The ZHOCD is not making this proposal in disregard of the right of Zanu-PF to run the country following the election of 2018. The church is insisting that we are too broken to build a future together without further hurting each other. We need a new start on the basis of meaningful engagement. As the Psalmist says, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity!… For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133). According to the Sustainable Development Goals, “There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.” We are seeking for a new politics of cooperation 40 years after our independence!!
H.WHAT THE ZHOCD IS REQUESTING FROM OUR MEMBER CHURCHES
35.Since this communication was already made to the President on the 16th of September 2020 and to some leaders of the opposition political parties, the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) now shares it with its members and broader society for their consideration. By this national consensus call, the ZHOCD is inviting you to:
35.1Pray for this call for National Consensus in your churches and homes in the realization that this is the only sustainable and non-violent option out of our current national challenges,
35.2Prayerfully study this invitation in your churches and small groups to deepen your engagement and understanding, and
35.3Share your thoughts and submissions regarding this National Consensus Call to the ZHOCD through your clergy, lay leaders, your organization or in your individual capacity for further processing.
May God bless Zimbabwe!! INkosi mayibusise iZimbabwe!! Ishe ngaakomborere Zimbabwe!!