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Zimbabwe to Summon Vatican Representative Over Catholic Bishop's Alleged Insults

Zimbabwe’s justice minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi, addresses journalists in Harare, Aug. 19, 2020. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)
Zimbabwe’s justice minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi, addresses journalists in Harare, Aug. 19, 2020. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government says it is summoning the Vatican's diplomatic representative to Zimbabwe to explain what it calls insults directed at the president by local Catholic bishops. The priests last week issued a statement condemning the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe.

Late Wednesday, Zimbabwe’s justice minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi, said President Emmerson Mnangagwa was concerned about the statement, which Catholic bishops released last week.

In the statement, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference raised concerns over what it called the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe.

The clergymen called on the government to address the concerns instead of denying them.

Ziyambi said the statement was an “insult” to President Mnangagwa.

“Given that the venerable bishops represent the Catholic Church, government is compelled to directly engage the Vatican to ascertain whether or not 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. Notwithstanding the deliberately provocative and divisive nature of the pastoral letter, the President’s commitment to the path of engagement with all religious communities remains steadfast and solid," he said.

On Thursday, a group of former Catholic priests in Zimbabwe urged the government to soften its position toward the church and instead attend to issues the Catholic bishops raised in their statement.

One of them is Abel Makahamadze, who is now a pastoral care giver with a private company in Harare.

“Our government is operating from a position of fear, by and large. And because of that, there is lack of trust of anyone who is within their circles. I think what needs to happen now is to come to a point where we agree and acknowledge about what is on the ground. The reality on the ground is that there is a crisis in the country. Yes, we may decide to disagree on the origins of that crisis but the starting point is that there is a crisis,” said Makahamadze.

On Wednesday, Ziyambi dismissed claims that there was a crisis in Zimbabwe. However, a hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter has trended strongly on social media since the beginning of the month.

That follows a number of pro-democracy activists going into hiding, saying they fear being arrested for organizing an anti-government protest last month, which security forces thwarted.

Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition leader Jacob Ngaruvhume have been in prison for a month on charges of stoking violence ahead of the July 31 march against poverty and corruption.