World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Statement on Zimbabwe

14 September 2001

Adopted by the Executive Committee, Geneva, 11-14 September 2001.

The Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva, 11-14 September 2001, expresses its deep appreciation to the Zimbabwe Council of Churches and to the church leaders for the Pastoral Letter to the Nation made public in Harare in late August of this year.

The member churches of the WCC have become increasingly concerned about the deteriorating economic and social situation in Zimbabwe and the rising tide of violence there. Part of this violence has been instigated by the encouragement given by the government of Zimbabwe to the War Veterans to occupy white-owned commercial farms. These invasions have claimed many lives of both white and black citizens. Compounding this violence were widespread acts of political intimidation in the months before the 2000 parliamentary elections. These have continued almost unabated. Early this year, the War Veterans began to attack and occupy private businesses.

Pressures applied by international financial institutions for structural adjustments of Zimbabwe's economy have exacerbated the impact on the people of the nation by further undermining the social welfare system and public health services at a time when the HIV/AIDS pandemic had already stretched it to the limits.

Zimbabwe's African neighbours and others around the world have been deeply troubled by all these developments in this nation that they had regarded to be a model of how racial tolerance, economic development and political democracy can contribute to a successful transition from colonial rule.

The WCC has a deep and long-standing attachment to the people of this land and to their churches. This began during the period of colonial rule, continued through the struggle for independence, has been sustained in the years since, and was renewed with the holding of the Eighth WCC Assembly in Harare in December 1998.

The ZCC pastoral letter reflects our concerns and has been issued at a critical time. Its urgent call for an open national dialogue on the crucial issues facing the country was warmly welcomed by the people of Zimbabwe. It makes clear and constructive recommendations on ways to lead the society as a whole away from the brink of self-destruction. These are addressed to the government, all political parties, the private sector and civil society as a whole. We sincerely hope that no particular addressee, especially the government and the ruling party, will view it as an attack on them or their institutions; but rather that all will welcome the church leaders' offer to facilitate the national dialogue and cooperate with them in pursuit of non-violent approaches to conflict transformation.

It is noteworthy that the church leaders have chosen to assume responsibility for their own national situation, and have made little reference to those outside Zimbabwe's borders whose impact is continually felt in this land. It is crucial, however, that the international community also take the churches' words to heart. Threats of further economic sanctions or to suspend all foreign aid until after the 2002 presidential elections could well impair the national dialogue and push Zimbabwe over the edge.

We therefore commend the approach taken by the recent Commonwealth meeting in Abuja, Nigeria. It recognizes the fact that "Land is at the core of the crisis in Zimbabwe and cannot be separated from other issues of concern…such as the rule of law, respect for human rights, democracy and the economy. A programme of land reform is, therefore, crucial to the resolution of the problem."

Zimbabweans are capable of restoring responsible governance, the rule of law and the democratic process in their country, and can put in place a responsible process of land reform that will do justice to all involved. They cannot, however, do this alone. International financial institutions, and especially those governments that made financial commitments to facilitate a fair process of peaceful land redistribution during the Lancaster House independence negotiations, must fully assume their obligations as well. In Abuja, the United Kingdom renewed its commitment. We hope that the U.S.A. will follow suit. Without these nations' assistance and the understanding and help of the international community, the nation will remain in jeopardy.

We continue to pray fervently that the people of Zimbabwe, their government, political parties and civil society as a whole will heed the call of the churches now, before it is too late. May God continue to bless and guide Zimbabwe in this critical hour of need.