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South African Churchmen Back in Zimbabwe


Erica Nyahunzi, right, prepares a meal for her family outside, after their family home was destroyed
A group of South Africa clerics is in Zimbabwe to meet with their Zimbabwean counterparts. They will discuss their proposed relief campaign for those who lost homes and livelihoods in the country's controversial clean-up exercise. This is a follow-up visit to last week's fact finding mission by some of the clerics.

After expressing dismay at the conditions under which the Zimbabwean displaced are living, the South African Council of Churches delegation announced they would launch a relief campaign.

The delegation met with South Africa President Thabo Mbeki, who agreed to support the a humanitarian effort. The clerics decided to send another delegation to Zimbabwe to assess the level of need. The Methodist presiding Bishop of Southern Africa, Ivan Abrahams, says the aim of the Southern Africa Coordinating Council campaign is to support the local churches and local and international organizations in the work they are already doing.

"There is (are) limited resources here. And, providing plastic shelters and the limited food supply, we were saying perhaps that does not go far enough and, again, we are going to take our cue from those people working on the ground," he said.

As noble as the churchmen's mission of mercy seems, not every one in Zimbabwe welcomes it. Days after their first visit, the government-controlled daily newspaper, the "Herald",- quoting what it called impeccable government sources as saying the clerics visit was bankrolled by British intelligence services. The paper says the visit was what it called part of the large campaign by Zimbabwe's detractors, pushing for a regime-change agenda in the country. The Herald says the clerics left Zimbabwe disappointed, after failing to secure a meeting with President Robert Mugabe.

Bishop Abrahams shrugged off the allegations, saying each of the delegate's fares and expenses were paid by their respective denominations. He added that the SACC had communicated with Mr. Mugabe's office in writing and by phone and were surprised to hear President Mbeki telling them that Mr. Mugabe's office said it had not received any communication from the South Africa Council of Churches.

The bishop says, although Mr. Mbeki was very keen to have the churchmen meet with Mr. Mugabe, the meeting might not take place. "If there is a perception that local churches and local NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) don't have access to the president, why should a group from outside come and create that kind of access?," he said.

Earlier this month, an African Union envoy on a fact-finding mission in Zimbabwe left the country empty-handed after the government said the continental body had not followed protocol when they dispatched him to Harare.

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