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Solution to Zimbabwe ‘could lie’ in Mugabe invitation from Pope

World News

The Pope should invite Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to the Vatican to impress on him in a "fatherly conversation" that he is not on a messianic mission and should step down as leader of his country.

The suggestion is being made by the Rev. Andre Bartlett, a Dutch Reformed Church minister who chairperson of the South African Council of Churches in Gauteng, South Africa’s smallest province in area, but the industrial heartland of the country and that includes Johannesburg and Pretoria. Despite European Union sanctions on leaders in the Zimbabwean regime, such as Mugabe, he attended the installation of Pope Benedict XVI in April 2005.

Bartlett has penned an article on Mugabe for the Afrikaans-language magazine Pomp, an intellectual publication published yearly that is due to appear in March. Bartlett was a member of fact-finding and monitoring missions during the 29 March 2008 election in Zimbabwe won by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Perhaps the key to unlocking the Zimbabwe impasse, writes Bartlett, lies in Mugabe’s middle name Gabriel. As one of the seven archangels in the Jewish-Christian tradition, Gabriel acts as intercessor between man and God.

"A person with such a name can easily be tempted to elevate himself in his own estimation to a greater extent than any other person should. And this could cause such a person to conclude, as he did in June last year, ‘Only God can remove me’," writes Bartlett. "In the unfolding of Mugabe’s life, a distinctive messianic line could be shown. A growing conviction that he has a supernatural, almost godly destiny to decide all his life long over the fate of his country and his people."

Mugabe was born on a Jesuit mission at Kutama, west of the capital, Harare. His mother, Bona, was a devout Roman Catholic who led catechism classes. She expected him to become a priest. His carpenter father Gabriel left the family when Robert was 10, and he became the household head, with a deep sense of responsibility on him. According to biographers his mother instilled in him the idea that he was "a man of destiny".

Mugabe’s intellectual talents and an unusual aura of gravitas caught the eye of the Irish head of the mission, Father Jerome O’Hea, who later paid for his education. He taught young Mugabe about the parallels between the Irish and African liberation struggles. In later years the bond was maintained – after being freed from 10 years in jail, Mugabe frequented Silveira House, a Jesuit training centre.

Since Mugabe came to power in 1980, some members of the Catholic Church have remained fiercely loyal to him. Father Fidelis Mukonori, head of the Jesuits in Zimbabwe, remains a top advisor. Heidi Holland, a biographer of Mugabe, raised in Zimbabwe, wrote that Mukonori has never condemned Mugabe for any of his repressive actions.

Bartlett writes that Mugabe may have developed an exaggerated sense of his destiny as a kind of "Gabriel figure who with divine right can make and break as he likes". "While it would be wrong to blame the Jesuits for creating a Frankenstein monster that is out of control, it should be conceded that the blind loyalty shown by some representatives of the church has contributed to Mugabe’s belief in his own invincibility and the righteousness of his actions.

"Would it be too far-fetched", Bartlett asks, for the Pope to extend an invitation to Mugabe to visit the Vatican, in order "to persuade him to realise that he is an ordinary mortal"? Bartlett believes that a solution might be found in "a strong initiative from the highest levels of the Catholic Church".

(c) Ecumenical News International

Photo : World News