I promised to comment more fully today on the subject of the so called "National Vision Document" (NVD) put together by certain segments of the wide array of Zimbabwe Churches and also on the (aborted) roundtable discussion sponsored by the German Embassy on Friday, purportedly to discuss the theme, "Citizens' Apathy and its Consequences on the development of Zimbabwe." First to the NVD launch meeting, held Friday at Harare's Catholic University. The Catholic University resembled a camp (an armed one, that is) more than a campus on Friday morning because of the expected appearance of the Zimbabwean President. Heavily armed military police and plain clothed security were crawling on the college grounds and especially in proximity to the tent which had been pitched for the event.
First a word on the National Vision Document and on the church leaders involved in the effort. According to its authors, the document is an "invitation to all Zimbabweans and all friends of Zimbabwe to dialogue with us so that we can together define a national division of the Zimbabwe we want, and agree on strategies on how to get there." The official sponsors of the document are the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC), the Evangelical fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ) and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC). However, the unstated reality is that there is great heterogeneity of opinion among members of each of these, the 3 main ecumenical associations in Zimbabwe, as well as heterogeneity of opinion among the adherents of the NVD effort itself. That is to say, within the ZCBC, there are prominent leaders (Bishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo is one; read excerpts from an interview with him on Britain's Channel 4 news last year courtesy of normblog.) who have been openly critical of the Mugabe regime and see the dissolution of that regime as a sine qua non for moving out of the crisis. Similarly, in the EFZ and the ZCC, there are those who will not countenance working with a regime that has routinely presided over the inplementation of policies that they believe violate basic tenets of respect for human rights, let alone, basic Christian tenets. These leaders and other like-minded members of these groups have disassociated themselves from the NVD effort, questiong the independence of the process and fearing that the GOZ was poised to co-opt the discussion regarding how the country might emerge from the political and economic morass.
Many of these Church leaders and activists suspicious of the NVD have, instead, been working through an activist umbrella group of religious and civil society groups opposed to the Mugabe regime known as the Christian Alliance (C.A.). Bishop Levee Kadenge, of Zimbabwe's Methodist Church, is one of the leaders of the C.A. Some of the Church hierarchy have responded hostiley to the C.A., scolding leaders of CA for their activism and independence and insisting that the Church must speak with one voice. The GOZ has been even more violent in its opposition to the C.A.: C.A. leaders, including Bishop Kadenge, have been followed, harrassed and have even received death threats from GOZ agents.
So the NVD, clearly, does not represent the voice of the entire (or some would say, even of a majority of) the ZCCB, EZF or ZCC.
But as I also stated, there is also clearly some difference of opinion among the religious leaders who are adherents to the NVD themselves. This came out clearly at the Friday morning meeting when certain of the pastors spoke of GOZ "mistakes", with regard to the manner in which the Mugabe government implemented a fast track land reform program and to the mass forced eviction operation that pushed 700,000 Zimbabweans into homelessness and, implicitly, in reference to his refusal to engage in dialogue with the political opposition and with civil society, while others towed the GOZ's line that foreign powers were to blame for teh political and economic difficulties.
However far apart the leaders of the NVD may be, Mugabe may have rendered their effort, modest and flawed as it may have been, a non-starter. In his speech that wound up the morning conference, Mugabe stated that constitutional reform, one of the cornerstones of the NVD, was out of the question. While the NVD stated that the current "Lancaster House constitution was not inspired by the collective consent and consensus of the people of Zimbabwe," Muagabe stated that the constitution was in fact "home grown" and was among the "non-negotiables" for his government.
To give credit where credit is due, the NVD document does, in what can only be described as an audacious way given the increasingly repressive political climate here, challenge certain of Mugabe's policies, for example, proposing the setting up of an independent land commission to ensure fair distribution of land and a review of repressive media and security laws recently enacted by the GOZ. However, Eldred Masunungure, Professor of Political Science at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) believes that the analysis did not go far enough:
"...yes it [the NVD] does raise important issues but at the same time it does not identify the major causes and where they originate from, such as mis-governance by the government...Let’s not forget that Mugabe is a cunning politician who has in the past managed to hoodwink opponents that he is changing policies."
John Makumbe, also Politcal Science Professor at UZ, summed up what appears to be the view of many in the pro-democracy movement in Zimbabwe with regard to the NVD:
"The fact that the main opposition is not part of the Church efforts could be a reflection that they do not have faith in the Church’s efforts and I would agree with that because Mugabe has shown in the past that he is not an honest and sincere negotiator.”