John Sentamu: The currency of Zimbabwe is falsehood

Neighbours wash their hands of responsibility for ending this reign of terror

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Easter Eve, Holy Saturday, Jesus's body lay cold in the tomb. The day his disciples were frightened and hid behind closed doors. It was all over. My thoughts go to Zimbabwe today, where the waiting continues. The past 12 months have been like one long Holy Saturday: Zimbabwe descending into the harrowing of Hell.

The true depth of Zimbabwe's tragedy is unfolding further every day. The uncomfortable marriage, dubbed "power-sharing", has done nothing to help. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has not been given control of the security forces, and the violence and intimidation go on. If there is food in the shops there is no money to pay for it. All around you see abject poverty, disease, hunger, and a total collapse of the rule of law.

And yet for Christians all over the world celebrating this weekend, Saturday is a day of quiet hope, the day of the coiled spring. Joy is about to be released upon the world. Locked up in the tomb, Jesus's body waits, still and cold. Soon will come the moment we are waiting for. Resurrection. The starting pistol for a new creation, God's kingdom of justice and joy, revealed in Christ arisen.

From earliest times the Easter story has been seen in terms of a battle. A battle between the corrupt powers, the authorities, the force of military might, and Jesus the Prince of Peace. Evil is vanquished by the courageous love of Christ, humble and obedient to death on a cross. With a God like that, evil principalities and powers don't stand a chance.

In today's Zimbabwe we have a new Herod and Pilate rolled into one in the shape of President Robert Mugabe. In the name of expediency, to protect himself and the thugs who keep him in power, the poor are intimidated, beaten, starved; opposition is muzzled. People who were abducted are still languishing in prison. At least three million Zimbabweans have travelled south across the border to South Africa to escape economic collapse. The nation has become a living tragedy, a spectre of evil: the bread basket of Southern Africa now a basket case. Neighbours far and near wash their hands of responsibility for ending this reign of terror.

Falsehood is now the hard currency of Zimbabwe. Bishop Sebastian Bakare of Harare, in his pastoral letter of June 2008, told of how "the Church is being persecuted through false allegations. Church buildings remain locked and declared no-go areas by the police. Some police officers have forbidden us to pray even under a tree, because of allegations by former members of our church that we are 'gays, lesbians or MDC'".

Things have not changed much since. At the beginning of March police commissioner Augustine Chihuri issued an affidavit in which he denied knowing anything about a police operation to force Anglicans away from churches.

However, the falsehood of this claim was exposed two weeks later, when on 17 March Bishop Bakare was faced with a riot policeman at the altar trying to disrupt his Sunday service. The bishop carried on with worship, and in front of the church's full congregation, Bishop Bakare told the representative of Zimbabwe's security services: "If you want to attack me, I am in your hands."

This reminds me powerfully of the stand Archbishop Desmond Tutu took, at the height of apartheid's oppression in South Africa. Archbishop Tutu declared to the large group of people, gathered in St George's Cathedral to pray for the end of apartheid – and surrounded by marauding soldiers and police – "I am a prisoner of hope. Soldiers, why not come over to the winning side?"

I ask, if the world was willing to condemn the oppression and lies of the apartheid regime, and support people like Desmond Tutu in his courageous stand, will the world do the same when falsehood and oppression are the weapons of the black Zimbabwean leadership? As night follows day, President Robert Mugabe and his Politburo are living on borrowed time and will be called to account for their inhumanity against the desecration of their country. Zimbabwe, which means "build as a rock", has now become a rubble.

On Mount Carmel, the prophet Elijah summoned the evil prophets of Baal to a contest. Who would bring down fire by the power of prayer? Mount Carmel farm in Mashonaland, Zimbabwe, has become the stage for a new contest. Michael Campbell, fifth-generation white farmer there, with his son-in-law Ben Freeth, recently took President Mugabe to the SADC court in Namibia.

The tribunal supported their case. But President Mugabe completely ignored the ruling. This Easter at Mount Carmel the Campbells and the Freeth family are holed up at their farm, knowing that as soon as they leave, the new owner – one of the President's cronies – will take possession. Thugs have attacked it regularly over the past weeks.

Mike Campbell, earlier abducted and tortured by Zanu-PF, only wants to protect the livelihood of his family and the 500 black workers who live with them on the once hugely productive farm. One of the workers, Simon, was attacked by thugs at the police station, who bashed his head against the wall repeatedly, leaving him critically ill with a fractured skull. I cannot think of Calvary, Golgotha, "the place of the skull", where Jesus was crucified, without thinking of that worker, Simon, at Mount Carmel farm. His co-workers have fled in fear to the bush. The danger is very real. The mangos are rotting on the trees. How long must we wait for justice and joy?

On a normal Sunday at Mount Carmel the church would be full – two-thirds black, one-third white, defying the state-sponsored racism. Like any congregation, anywhere, these are an Easter people, and Alleluia is their song. But today is a day of waiting.

There is no doubt, Zimbabwe's Easter will come, sooner or later. There will be a new constitution, new elections, and a new government. This cannot come soon enough.

We are anticipating the resurrection of Zimbabwe. We shall overcome!



The writer is the Archbishop of York

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