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South Africa’s Boesak urges churches: Stand up to Zimbabwe ‘tyranny’

Prominent South African anti-apartheid activist Rev Allan Boesak

Rev Allan Boesak, a prominent South African anti-apartheid activist and former president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, has appealed to churches in Zimbabwe to speak with one voice against tyranny.

"One of the deepest sources of pain for Zimbabweans must be the trauma of seeing a liberation movement become an undemocratic, oppressive, unjust regime," Boesak wrote in a May open letter to Zimbabwean church leaders. "I know tyranny when I see it, and it is in Zimbabwe as surely as it was in South Africa."

Boesak visited Zimbabwe in April as part of a church delegation. "I have left your country shaken to the core, and with a sense of the righteous anger that I felt during apartheid," said Boesak, now research director of the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology at the University of Stellenbosch.

Zimbabweans are facing a runoff presidential election on 27 June after official results said that President Robert Mugabe had lost the presidential poll in the first round of voting at the end of March.

Mugabe’s opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, was said to have received 48 percent of the presidential vote, while Mugabe got 43 percent.

Zimbabwe’s election law stipulates 50 percent plus one vote is required to avoid a runoff but the MDC says it won the presidential poll outright and that it garnered 50.3 percent of the vote.

The MDC has accused activists of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and state security agents of having engaged in an "orgy of violence" since the March elections. The MDC said on 19 May that the political violence had claimed the lives of at least 43 of its activists, while Zanu-PF party militants have been reported to have attacked suspected opposition supporters, with scores of people forced to live in the open air after their homes were torched.

In Berlin, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that the deployment of international peacekeepers is the only way to prevent Mugabe’s supporters from intimidating and threatening the opposition.

"It would be in everybody’s interest to send an international peacekeeping force to Zimbabwe," Tutu, the former leader of South Africa’s Anglicans, told Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper. "That is the only way to make sure no violence will be exerted."

Boesak quoted the German Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed during the Second World War for his part in a plot to kill the German Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler: "As Dietrich Bonhoeffer has said about Nazi Germany in times very much like those you live in, ‘Hitler has shown himself clearly for what he is, and the church ought to know with whom it has to reckon’."

Boesak, who is a mixed race South African, was at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa during the 1980s. From 1982 to 1990 he was the president of the Geneva-based WARC, and in 1983 he was a keynote speaker at the World Council of Churches’ assembly in Canada.

In his letter to the Zimbabwean churches, Boesak recalled how three decades ago, the WCC had been "reviled throughout the Western world, despised by governments, [and] left in the lurch by churches" because of its Programme to Combat Racism. This programme, through a special fund, gave humanitarian aid to armed liberation movements in southern Africa.

"But the WCC remained steadfast," Boesak recalled. "The WCC learned what it meant to make the difficult choices and to stand on the side of the oppressed."

He noted how a recent WCC and All Africa Conference of Churches observer team had been denied accreditation by the Zimbabwean government to monitor the elections.

"Why?" asked Boesak. "Because the churches have, as they did 30 years ago, once again made fundamental choices: against the oppressor and for the oppressed; against the powerful who unashamedly abuse their power, and for the powerless.

"But it is the same choice the churches are always called to make. It is not the churches who have changed, it is Zanu-PF. The churches know and are in fact saying that it is not white colonialists, outside oppressors or neo-imperialists who are causing the havoc and suffering in Zimbabwe; it is Zimbabweans who are doing that," Boesak wrote.

In its report, the WCC and AACC election observer team detailed, "violence, intimidation and outright confrontation", as well as the government use of food as a "political tool", and media bias in favour of the government.

The team also urged the Zimbabwe churches to show leadership to the people of the southern African nation following the 29 March elections.

It said that although the Zimbabwean churches had been "outspoken in promoting and entrenching a transparent governance structure that is sensitive to the plight of the Zimbabwean populace", they nevertheless, "have not spoken with one voice nor do they seem to read from the same script over the years".

Boesak wrote in his "pastoral letter" of the observer mission’s report, "They too sound the bell of urgency not just to the Zimbabwean government but also to the Zimbabwean churches."

The full text of the "Open Pastoral letter to the Zimbabwean churches" issued by the Rev. Allan Boesak can be found at www.eni.ch/documents/boesak.shtml

Ecumenical News International

Photo : Prominent South African anti-apartheid activist Rev Allan Boesak