DIALOGUE between opposition MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa and President Emmerson Mnangagwa remains key in resolving the country’s multi-layered political and economic crises and churches will push for the talks to materialise, says Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) secretary-general Kenneth Mtata (KM). Mtata recently sat down to discuss this and other issues with NewsDay (ND) Midlands reporter Brenna Matendere. Below are the excerpts:
ND: Who is Kenneth Mtata?
KM: My background training is in automobile electrics, theology and public policy. As a Christian, what drives me is the desire to see the generality of Zimbabweans enjoying peaceful, united and joyful relationships characterised by shared economic prosperity. This is what I think Jesus meant when he said: “I came so that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10). My contribution to this has been through my efforts in uniting progressive voices in the church and civil society. In public life, I have been working with others to find a negotiated settlement to the challenges facing the nation. So dialogue has been one of my main missions.
ND: As ZCC, what work have you been doing to promote peace and harmony in Zimbabwe?
KM: The ZCC has been working with other church bodies and civil society organisations to promote peace through dialogue. We have dialogues happening at local community levels where we want to activate the agency of local actors in addressing local problems. We have also dialogue platforms as organised society, especially now through the national convergence platform. We continue to explore ways of pushing political and policy actors to find each other to resolve the challenges the nation is facing. We also as ZCC address pressing humanitarian issues by providing food to the needy as well as helping them to grow food for themselves. Above everything, we train our own members to be peace champions.
ND: What is your assessment of the situation in Zimbabwe today and the socio-political environment?
KM: Most of the time we have what can be called negative peace, that is, a situation where we do not have all-out war, but where more relationships are characterised by hatred and ill feelings. This negativity characterises relationships within and between political parties. It is the relationship in different organisations and society. This kind of peace is not conducive for sustainable development. It does not allow for co-operation and sharing of resources. When one does something positive, the other feels obliged to destroy it. This kind of peace has created deep suspicion among people. There is lack of co-operation in Parliament and across different sectors of society.
ND: You wanted to bring Mnangagwa and Chamisa to the negotiating table. What happened to your plans?
KM: The intention was to cultivate a culture of dialogue among Zimbabweans across different levels of society. Mnangagwa and Chamisa represent the largest followership of voters if we use the figures of the last election. Their co-operation engenders a positive national atmosphere.
The two could have achieved more if they co-operated than when they worked against each other.
So their co-operation is what we wanted to promote since before and after the elections in 2018. We think it remains important. We must promote it. We will still do that.
ND: What is the church’s view on the national lockdown and how has it affected faith-based organisations?
KM: The lockdown was necessary to curb the spread of the COVID-19. It affected the churches and other faith-based organisations as it did other sectors of society since religion is a contact sport. It was, however, necessary.
ND: As churches, are you happy with how government is managing COVID-19. What more could government do?
KM: COVID-19 comes at a time the nation is facing challenges at three levels. (1) The nation is not united, (2) the Constitution has not been fully implemented, and (3) the economy is weak, hence, the health services are in a state of dysfunction. People can debate the cause of such fragility, but the fact of the matter is that with this triple challenge, there could never have been adequate preparedness for COVID-19. Nevertheless, the government has an opportunity to address all these issues in a holistic way by bringing all key stakeholders to contribute towards a comprehensive post-COVID-19 Zimbabwe.
ND: In your view, are the country’s leaders, Mnangagwa and Chamisa going to sit down for talks like their predecessors the late former President Robert Mugabe and the late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai did?
KM: We hope they do. It is in their best political interest, but also in the interest of the Zimbabweans.
ND: As the church you have been trying to resolve past conflicts, especially Gukurahundi, what work have you done so far in that regard and what are your future plans?
KM: We think it is an issue that has to be resolved, but which can also be resolved in a way that it will not continue hurting the nation. We have proposed 10 principles to effectively bring the Gukurahundi to a closure. We have translated these to many languages. We have also engaged traditional leaders on the Gukurahundi issue to find common ground. We have also carried out some of these tasks with the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission as the constitutionally-mandated body to deal with such issues.
ND: There has been a trend of abductions and torture of MDC Alliance activists, what is your take on that and what can be the solution?
KM: We have issued a statement to denounce abduction and torture as a means of dealing with political disagreements. It spells out our call for an independent investigation and punishment of perpetrators. We, however, think that these abductions and torture are some of the issues that a comprehensive and inclusive national dialogue could resolve once and for all.
ND: We have seen an emergence of flamboyant pastors flaunting wealth and preaching the gospel of prosperity with miracles, what does the doctrine of the church say about that?
KM: The gospel must address poverty and all the challenges human beings face. But it must address the challenges for all people and not benefit just a few. Any such gospel that enriches a few in the face of wider societal poverty is a scam.