By Claus Grue*
”Communications is at the heart of what it means to be church”, according to Kenneth Mtata, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC).
Since he took office in September 2016, communication has been prioritized and the ZCC is now about to set up a communication network, where communicators from churches in Zimbabwe can connect to share knowledge and experience.
"We have discovered the power of communications, but we must work on the content, and also the quality of worship”, Mtata says.
He thus touches upon the fact that being a priest is about communicating, not only by preaching the Gospel on Sundays, but also by embodying the church as a viable force for justice and peace, and by being a voice for the poor and less fortunate, a loud voice for what is right.
Earlier this year, he invited church leaders and communicators from all over the country to a three-day communications workshop in Harare. The next step is to set up a communications centre, including a radio and recording studio, at ZCC’s new headquarters in Hatfield, just outside the city.
”It will enable us to produce messages of quality and substance and deliver them quickly to the right audiences. Today, there aren’t any influential religious radio stations in Zimbabwe. If we want to be an influential voice of change we must have our own radio station”, Mtata explains.
Another priority is the ZCC website, which is now being developed to meet today’s demands from both domestic and international audiences.
”It is extremely important for us to be visible outside Zimbabwe, so that international audiences can recognize the influential role the church plays for change and democracy in our country. The web is a potent tool for that”, he adds.
His most urgent challenge since he returned home with his wife and two teenage kids from a seven-year tenure in Europe has been to change the direction of the ZCC and increase its efficiency as umbrella organization for the Christian churches in Zimbabwe. That has required a new constitution and a new governance structure, where the bishops play a different role.
”We now operate more business-like with help from people who know how to run a business, but who are committed to the church and the values we stand for”, Mtata explains.
With the new constitution, other pieces have also fallen into place, such as the ZCC secretariat which step by step has been staffed to turn strategy into action and to meet today’s demands from member churches. Again, communication plays a central role and a professional communicator has therefore been recruited.
The political changes in Zimbabwe in November last year, when President Mugabe’s 37-year rule came to an end, have of course been both a challenge and a welcome opportunity for the Christian churches in the country to engage in a process towards justice, peace and prosperity.
”Our ability to gather 4,000 people from churches and civil society organizations in Harare on the 24th of November last year to manifest support for peaceful change, showed the convening authority we have. Our public presence has resulted in special advocacy spaces, which we would not have had otherwise”, Mtata explains.
This manifestation was a logical consequence of the warning to the government that the ZCC had issued already in September, expressing grave concerns about the way the country was governed.
Previously, in May last year, a solidarity visit by World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit and a team of church leaders had paved the way and boosted the confidence of bishops and church leaders in Zimbabwe. Both the then-vice president Mnangagwa, who is now president, and the now late opposition leader Tsvangirai, were paid visits.
”The solidarity visit gave us the kick-start we needed. It put us on the map and people were reminded that we are part of the global ecumenical family. Equally important, the public worships showed that we are not just another civil society organization, we are a church”, Mtata points out.
On ZCC’s agenda now is to lead what is labelled a ” National Envisioning Process”, to be launched in September this year, where critical issues for Zimbabwe’s future are raised: ”How do we ensure that the ills of the past will not re-emerge?” And ”how do we build a viable contract for the future?”
Before that, the upcoming elections, tentatively scheduled in July, will of course determine the direction of the country. ZCC’s plan is to concentrate its efforts on advocating for fair elections and urging people to vote. The recently launched campaign: ”IprayIvote”, where belief is connected to action, is an important part of that.
All in all, the ZCC is deeply engaged in Zimbabwe’s healing of the past and its visions of the future.
”We already hear a new - more inclusive - rhetoric about peace and nation building than in the past”, Mtata concludes.
Or as his wife Tsitsidzashe convincingly puts it: ”We are such peaceful people in this country”.
“Three voices of hope from Zimbabwe” (WCC press release 12 February 2018)
“Zimbabwe Council of Churches appeals to government to address fears of the people” (WCC press release 29 September 2017)
“Clear priorities set for Zimbabwe” (WCC press release 24 May 2017)
“In Zimbabwe, connections could strengthen peace” (WCC press release 20 May 2017)
*Claus Grue is communication consultant for the World Council of Churches.