A senior Zimbabwean clergyman has issued an unprecedented plea for a peaceful Ukraine-style "popular mass uprising" to remove President Robert Mugabe after elections this week.
The highly respected Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, the Most Rev Pius Ncube, said that the parliamentary elections on Thursday were certain to be rigged. "I hope that people get so disillusioned that people really organise against this government and kick him [Mr Mugabe] out by non- violent popular mass uprising," said Archbishop Ncube. "As it is, people have been too soft with this government. So people should pluck up just a bit of courage and stand up against him and chase him away."
Archbishop Ncube, who is a prominent critic of Mr Mugabe and the ruling Zanu-PF, made the radical suggestion, in an interview with The Independent, as evidence was mounting of more subtle forms of intimidation and coercion than the overt violence that characterised the previous two elections. "I am simply backing a non-violent popular uprising, like that in the Philippines in 1986 and such as in Ukraine," he said.
Many believe that the results of the national elections, in which President Mugabe has the right to appoint 30 members of the 120-seat parliament, have been pre-determined by the government. Rallies of Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have largely been peaceful but a steady stream of complaints accuse the government of using other tactics such as withholding food aid from MDC supporters in a time of near-famine.
"No way will elections kick him out," Archbishop Ncube said. "Mugabe has made all his plans. He has cheated in 2000 and 2002. They are very well schooled. They will cheat."
His call for a mass uprising has resonance in strife-torn Matabeleland, the MDC heartland where the archbishop is based. The southern region bore the brunt of anti-opposition massacres ordered by Mr Mugabe in the early 1980s. Local Zimbabweans have been discussing such a response to Zanu-PF's predicted election victory, and some say they are already mobilised.
But the archbishop insists he is not advocating violence: "I am not talking about a freedom struggle, because these freedom struggles, I hate them, since they're violent. Mugabe came in by violence, and now when he is threatened he turns again to violence to keep people subjugated."
Asked what it would take to motivate people to rise up, Archbishop Ncube said: "We need strong leadership, someone whom people can trust, for whom they can say 'We are ready to lay down our lives for this person'."
He said the electoral council and supervisory commission had been "totally handpicked by Mugabe", adding that Mr Mugabe's party stood to win no more than 30 seats if the poll was fair. "Those who are going to count the votes are soldiers and police. So it is clear that they want to rig.
"Moreover the registrar general is 200 per cent pro-Mugabe and he has shown how dishonest he can be in elections in the past. So they will rig the elections."
Yesterday, the archbishop delivered his Easter Sunday Mass at St Mary's Cathedral in Bulawayo. "Somewhere there shall come a resurrection for Zimbabwe," he told the congregation.