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South African churches criticise Mbeki’s silence

The South African Council of Churches, which was at the forefront of the fight against apartheid, condemned the detention by Zimbabwean police of church and opposition leaders, as well as civil society activists and human rights campaigners, who were all participating in the public prayer meeting on 11 March. The manner of the arrest left opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in hospital with a possible skull fracture and internal bleeding as a result of police beatings.

In Geneva, the Rev. Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the 75 million-strong World Alliance of Reformed Churches, strongly condemned the police action. The 54-year-old Tsvangirai and more than 40 other opposition figures were arrested in the latest crackdown on dissent by President Robert Mugabe’s security forces.

Nyomi, a Ghanaian, said, "We are very concerned about what is happening in Zimbabwe at this time, including the arrest of leaders of the Student Christian Movement. The arrest and intimidation of people in any country, for simply speaking out in the face of the suffering of their people is truly reprehensible."

"We call on the Zimbabwe government to return to the principles of good governance, which will enhance the welfare and freedom of all the people of Zimbabwe."

In a 13 March statement, the SACC said, "Our leaders must show that they are committed to helping the people of Zimbabwe find rapid solutions to the many problems confronting them." The council also expressed its concern about the "growing wave of repression and human rights violations in Zimbabwe".

In joining Zimbabwean opposition groups criticising South Africa’s silence on Zimbabwe, the SACC said that the situation, "threatens to destabilise the entire Southern African Development

The government of President Thabo Mbeki has refused to criticise the government in neighbouring Zimbabwe, and has long said it is engaging in "quiet diplomacy", which is an approach that Zimbabwean exiles have described as complicity with Mugabe’s government.

"We notice, with deep concern that Zimbabwean authorities are attempting to create and exploit divisions within the Zimbabwean Church. Authoritarian regimes commonly make use of such ‘divide and rule’ tactics to discredit and stifle genuine opposition," said SACC general secretary Eddie Makue. "History has shown that the truth will set us free. No matter how harsh the repression, a people who seek peace with justice cannot be deterred."

South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad did say in a 13 March statement that was seen as a mild rebuke: "South Africa urges the Zimbabwean government to ensure that the rule of law including the respect for rights of all Zimbabweans and leaders of various political parties is respected."

(c) Ecumenical News International