World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Zimbabwe - Pastoral letter to the churches

25 April 2000

Council of Churches, 25 April 2000.

Dear Densen,

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Risen Christ!

As we celebrate Easter together in separate places, we are again reminded of our bond of unity in Him who overcame death that we may be reconciled to God and to one another. Just as Christ called us into this fellowship, He continues always to strengthen us as disciples in his own ministry of justice, peace and reconciliation. This is our common calling, each in our own place and each on behalf of the whole Church, in order that the world might believe in Him.

We continue to be grateful for the Council's witness, and are especially pleased to hear that the Zimbabwe Council of Churches is holding tomorrow a consultative meeting with the leaders of the political parties to reflect with them on their responsibilities in this critical time of decision-making for the nation. No other body in Zimbabwe is better equipped than the Council to address the deep underlying causes of the current problems encountered by your people, and no one is better placed than the Council to lead them to lasting peace based on justice for all.

Thus we are confident that this gathering will call forth the best from the leaders of Zimbabwe, reminding them of the mutual obligations and responsibilities of government, political parties and the people to promote the common good. Narrow understandings of political power based on individual gain or group interests cannot achieve this. Now is the moment for those called to provide leadership to focus their thoughts and actions on the greater good and to act with honesty and integrity.

The churches of Zimbabwe share the responsibility for good governance of the nation, and the people look to you for clear ethical and moral guidance. To perform this role, we pray that you will prepare yourselves carefully and develop a common position that will enable you to offer a clear and decided witness to the people, its political parties and its government with respect to:

  • the primacy of the rule of law;
  • the need to eliminate official corruption and abuses of power;
  • the need to establish a system of responsible stewardship of the nation's economy, including the equitable distribution of the land, other natural resources and wealth;
  • the need to reverse the trend of deteriorating social services;
  • the need to enhance human security through strengthening the basis for peace and social stability; and
  • the need to re-consider the deployment of Zimbabwean troops in a neighbouring country.

We are aware that this will require courage and costly discipleship. As you pursue this task, we assure you of our prayers, solidarity and accompaniment. The global ecumenical fellowship that accompanied you through the daunting struggle for independence of Zimbabwe and in the process of building a new nation remains with you today. The difficult decision of the World Council of Churches to accept your invitation to hold its Eighth Assembly in Harare was a mighty sign of this resolve of the ecumenical movement to share the risks you take in standing for justice and peace. In this connection, we are prepared to send now a pastoral team to support you in this demanding hour.

In its letter to you of 14 April 2000, the World Council of Churches warmly welcomed and supported your Communiqué issued by the "Workshop on the Role of the Church in Promoting Democracy and Good Governance: The Role of the Church in the Forthcoming General Elections." We also would like to refer to the letter of the General Secretary, of the Lutheran World Federation, addressed to His Excellency Robert Mugabe dated 14 April 2000. We regret that in spite of national and international outcry the violence exercised with the tacit approval of the Government has not subsided, but rather has taken more lives and heightened tensions, further leading the country to the brink of collapse of order and the rule of law.

As we await your own reflections, we offer here our own convictions with respect to the especially critical issue of the land, in the hope that you will take them into account:

1. We reaffirm our support for fair distribution of land through a clearly defined, equitable and democratically-controlled land reform. Only thus can land ownership be democratized; without it no effort to redistribute and reallocate land can be either effective or just. The struggle for independence was fought and blood was shed over the ownership of land in Zimbabwe. The imbalance inherited from the colonial era remains and still needs to be redressed. But to leave this in the hands of individuals or groups cannot lead to the democracy for which Zimbabwe struggled. The churches have a moral and spiritual obligation to provide leadership and to advocate on behalf of and uphold the rights of all, especially the powerless, the voiceless and marginalised with respect to the redistribution of land.

2. An effective plan for land reform will require a wise and careful review of the commercial farming sector to ensure that the agro-based economy and the farm laborers are not unduly affected. Any action that will further disrupt the economy of the country at this time of grave financial crisis needs to be avoided. The rights of the 300,000 farm workers, some of them migrant workers from neighboring countries, need to be protected.

3. The rights of white farm owners who have chosen to remain in Zimbabwe and to contribute to its development must also be respected. The uncontrolled process of land occupation without a solid plan for land redistribution has led to racial violence and the deaths of black and white Zimbabweans alike. Violence is inadmissible as a means of resolving conflict, whether it is exercised by individuals, groups or government. Even one more act of violence or killing is a sin against God who created every person in his own image.

4. A fair land redistribution policy must compensate the landless for the deprivation of land by colonialists and the landowners for the labour and capital they have invested in developing the agricultural sector.

5. The international community, and in particular the former colonial power, must help finance the programme for fair and democratic distribution of land.

6. In order for land distribution to be carried out deliberately and without violence, the national and international media must report on the land debate and ensuing problems dispassionately and in an objective and balanced way.

We share these considerations with you in love and with great hope for your ministry on behalf of the whole Church of Christ in the place you have been called to witness and to serve. May God strengthen you in your convictions and in your witness in this troubled time.

Yours in Christ, the Lord of all,

    Konrad Raiser    Ishmael Noko
    General Secretary    General Secretary
    World Council of Churches    Lutheran World Federation