If you have low expectations it is difficult to be disappointed! So I guess when the Heads of Denominations here produced their much-vaunted report on the 'The Zimbabwe we want' I had few illusions about the men who were involved and scant expectation. After all, these are the same men (no women involved at all) who bowed and scraped whenever they were in the presence of the State President. These are the same people who said little about Gukurahundi and who co-operated with the State in trying to hide what actually went on during that shameful era. These are the same men who have (in some cases) accepted the allocations of farms taken illegally from their rightful owners by force. These are the same men who said nothing when Murambatsvina was being implemented.

The Church has a lousy record when it comes to defending the poor and the fundamental rights of mankind. It is not that the Bible does not speak into these areas - it does and often in stark and powerful terms: -

'Many, many bodies flung everywhere. Silence! Hear this you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land. Saying, when will the new moon be over that we may sell grain and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat, skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.' Amos 8 vs. 3 - 6.

On the issue of justice, the Bible is one of the great examples of teaching that this is not a negotiable right - it is a fundamental right, especially for the poor and heaven help anyone who denies justice to the downtrodden!

But there is nothing new in respect to this stony silence by the Church on issues of governance and justice in society. I well remember when I first stood up for black rights in the early 60's having been given a baptism of fire by a young Methodist who challenged me on the conditions under which black Rhodesians were living. The reaction of the white, evangelical community was to label me a Communist and to steer carefully around us when we appeared in public. At the same time many of those same Christian leaders did more than bow and scrape to the leaders of the Rhodesian Front - many were active in their political programs. When I attempted to bring black Rhodesians into the structures of our society I was asked if I was in favor of miscegenation - I resigned from most of my Evangelical associations in fury.

Now obviously there are many exceptions and the Church has, on occasion, played a key role in the resolution of many singular human rights failures - the abolition of slavery and the destruction of apartheid perhaps being prime examples. But even in these cases, many Church leaders collaborated with those who were guilty of gross human rights abuse. The rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party happened under the noses of European Church leaders and the record of the Lutherans was not very exemplary!

So now these Church leaders, who hitherto have been notable only for their silence, have discovered that all is not well in the State and have set out to try and conjure an agreement on a possible way out of the impasse we are in. But my colleagues argue, at least they have woken up and have now spoken - we may not be happy with all they have said, but overall what they say is welcome and a useful addition to the pressure we have been trying to bring on the Zimbabwe regime to talk to the rest of us about finding solutions.

Pius Ncube, the Catholic Bishop of this part of the country, is reported to have said on an occasion when the prelates were presented to the State President, that he was unable to stay in the same room as the President, let alone share in the fawning attitude shown by his colleagues - after all, the man they were meeting was guilty of the murder of thousands of his own people.

If the initiative of the Church were to produce some sort of action on the part of Zanu PF and the President, we would all welcome their actions. However, at best they have added their voices to those who have been speaking out on national issues and at worst their report will be used by Zanu PF to prevaricate on the issues that confront us all in our daily lives. I see no sign that they are going to move one inch.

In recent days we have had Nathan Shamuyarira - one of our most senior political figures with a PhD from Princeton saying that Zanu has nothing to be ashamed of in respect to Gukurahundi, then Chombo - another senior figure, saying that there was nothing untoward with Murambatsvina and that they were preparing for another round of shack demolitions. Not to be outdone, Mugabe himself has defended the actions of the police when they beat MDC and ZCTU activists recently while in custody. And remember these were not beatings like the one they gave me last year outside the Supreme Court which left me with deep bruising on my back and arms, in this instance they broke bones and two people required medical attention in South Africa for head injuries.

The Minister of Information said in a clear statement that Zanu was not about to negotiate itself into oblivion. To me this frank admission says it all - they know very well that if they give one inch, they will start an avalanche that will bury them all and sweep away every vestige of Zanu PF in our society. So the stalemate continues and Zimbabwe burns. The monthly inflation numbers should be out today - I have no idea what they will reveal but the chaos in fiscal and monetary policy continues. To me the joke of the week however, was a plaintive cry from the IMF representative in South Africa who complained that if only the Zimbabwe government would follow their prescriptions, recovery would begin. I hope Washington is not so na´ve or ignorant.

The Rural District Council elections are over - we put up over 1000 candidates and got thumped in most areas. Zanu simply used the exercise to confirm they control the process and the outcome. Our people were not deceived - they simply stayed away and the total poll was under 5 per cent. I am relieved we did not win many seats - what on earth would we do with them? We cannot deliver any meaningful change or development until the whole evil hierarchy of Zanu PF is put out to pasture. That will take a different battleground and that is coming - not even Zanu PF can avoid that.

Eddie Cross
10th November 2005