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Zimbabwe’s Ncube calls for street protests against Mugabe

Zimbabwe Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube has called for "peaceful" street protests against the 27-year rule of President Robert Mugabe who has cracked down on opposition protests with ferocity as his country faces economic meltdown.

"It’s time for a radical stance and not soft speeches and cowardice and the time is now," Ncube told a 22 March meeting organized by the Christian Alliance, which brings together church groups, campaigning for political change in Zimbabwe under the umbrella of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign.

"As Zimbabweans we need courage to stand for our rights now. Now we must just stand up to this government," said Ncube, a long-standing critic of excesses committed by Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party. "We must stand up and fill the streets and demand that this man [Mugabe] stand down right now."

The archbishop castigated Mugabe’s government for unleashing security forces who beat up scores of opposition, church and rights activists including Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Tsvangirai went to hospital last week with head and facial injuries suffered at the hands of security forces who had blocked a prayer rally "to pray for an end to tyranny". An MDC activist, Gift Tandare, was fatally shot as the meeting was dispersed.

"God made human beings in his own image," Ncube told the meeting attended by church leaders, rights activists and foreign diplomats attached to Harare. "Human beings, therefore, are special creatures and human rights are God-given. There is no one who has the right to ride over us and bash our heads like what happened [last week].

"Courage is what is needed. Let’s stand for our rights now. My biggest worry is [that] Zimbabweans are cowards," said Ncube. "If we were courageous and get around 20 000 of us into the streets, the government of Zimbabwe would not do anything to us."

He added, "The pastors must be the ones in front. I urge that pastors get off the comfort of their seats and lead and suffer with the people.

"We pastors are too fond of the comfort we enjoy. We like nice breakfast with eggs and bacon every morning. That must stop. We like to drive nice cars. As long as we are in for comfort we are not going to get rid of the oppressors."

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches deplored the worsening political crisis in the country and called for dialogue to end the tensions.

"As the ZCC we do not condone violence by whoever, and we strongly condemn the shooting to death of MDC activist Gift Tandare and the brutal treatment of the opposition leaders and their supporters while in the hands of the police," read part of the church council statement.

It also deplored attacks against police officers, some of whom were injured, by activists reacting to the death of their colleague.

"If this state of affairs continues, we foresee a situation that will degenerate into civil unrest where there will be a lot of bloodshed," the churches said. "We therefore recommend that all stakeholders engage in dialogue. Police should restrict themselves to their duties of arresting suspects and investigating all criminal activities and not to use torture and ill-treatment as a means of interrogation."

Efforts by leaders to broker talks between the ruling party and the MDC floundered nearly four years ago after a government minister described church leaders as opposition activists wearing clerical collars.

(c) Ecumenical News International