Budiriro: Religion, politics and rule of law

Spread This News

IN a scene reminiscent of how Judas Iscariot accompanied the riot police to arrest Jesus Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, on Friday 30 May, Zimbabwe anti-riot police, in the company of Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) President Johannes Ndanga, visited Madzibaba Ishmael-led shrine seeking to enforce a ban on the church for alleged abuse of women and children.
In a scene also reminiscent of how Peter tried to defend Jesus Christ through a sword, the persecuted sect, in turn self-organised and assaulted the riot police, who fled the scene. This case, which has now been highly satirised represents a classical example of the interplay between religion, politics and the rule of law in Zimbabwe, while the self-organisation of the sect to confront state excesses is the spontaneous rise of the proletariat against state power, which we allude to in our previous article ‘Re-thinking strategy on the Zimbabwean crisis’.
While, Zimbabweans feel that every allegation of abuse by churches, especially where children are involved, should be investigated for all perpetrators to be brought to book, there is a strong sentiment that the police’s conduct was disproportionate, not above board and politically motivated. The Budiriro case highlights the complicated history of the church and the ruling Zanu PF that is characterized by both a dark and soft underbelly. Firstly, the government has used the church’s soft underbelly to introduce their political doctrine in to the church and secondly, the church has in turn largely supported political hegemony through a selective application of the scriptures, which represents a dark underbelly.
This latest episode follows the case of Nolbert Kunonga, the former Anglican Bishop of Harare and Mashonaland in Zimbabwe who, from 2005 until recently, perpetrated gross human rights abuses in the name of God, with impunity and state protection. It also follows various cases which include: how the ruling party has manipulated the apostolic sects to advance their political agendas, how they have used civilian institutions such as schools and teachers to advance their party ideology, the recent case of Gumbura who was convicted of abuse of church women, but who in his defence stated that he was falsely incriminated for various political reasons since he preaches polygamy in his church and some of those who are opposed to his teachings have instigated the current rape charges’. During his sentencing, the Magistrate made disturbing statements that the state should supervise churches and their doctrines.Advertisement

The church in Zimbabwe, used generically, represents the largest civil society body, which could solely decide on the nation’s destiny especially during an election. The total population of those who are in the apostolic sects is estimated to be above 3 million. The ruling party Zanu PF has, over the years, managed to exercise both duress and undue influence over these sects to support their political hegemony. They penetrate the soft religious underbelly and turned it into a dark underbelly.
Over the past years, there has also been a proliferation of Pentecostal churches which command huge numbers, and it is not surprising that the ruling party has managed to court most of these to their side. In most cases, scriptures are cherry picked to support the ideology that the church must respect and honour national leaders and must not question authority. The few churches that are not explicitly on the side of Zanu PF have chosen to exercise mendacity.
The issues relating to the church, politics and rule of law in Zimbabwe are very complicated and beyond the purview of this article. However, for there to be sustainable social change in Zimbabwe, both the opposition parties and civil society organisations cannot afford to ignore the force of the church and the leverage it brings. Though there have been various religious groupings or groups with a religious ethos such as the CCJP, Zimbabwe Council of Churches and Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe that have tried to institute social projects that advance human rights, more could be done to take advantage of the huge church body. If mainstream CSOs do not take advantage of this huge body, it will continue to be a pawn in the hands of the ruling party, dealing with it as they please.
Any political and democratic change in Zimbabwe will be very difficult to achieve without social change and creation of necessary social conditions that resonate with the wider communities. Churches hold a strong leverage in that regard. However, in order for the broader discourse of the role of the church in creating necessary conditions for social change to shape up, it is necessary to ensure that the state acts in accordance with the law (rule of law) in their dealings with the church community and this is where CSOs need to make some immediate demands. Was it right for the riot police to invade the church premises as they did?
Zimbabwe’s constitution and the law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Despite this prohibition, there are some laws that effectively weaken these prohibitions. Despite the law, security forces in Zimbabwe have routinely and arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, particularly political and civil society activists perceived to oppose the Zanu PF party. The constitution also guarantees religious freedoms, and therefore the arrest of religious people ought to respect religious freedoms guaranteed in the constitution and should be done in accordance with sections 50 and 70 of the new constitution. Under these sections arrestees and detainees have been entitled to certain rights, which are not yet fully reflected in the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act [the CP&E Act], which regulates the way in which criminal proceedings must be conducted. 
Under pre-trial procedures, for example, upon arrest section 50 of the new Constitution gives people who have been arrested a number of important rights which are not reflected in the CP&E Act.  These rights, for example, are the right to contact relatives, advisers etc, right to visitors, right to silence without inferences being drawn, right to be informed of their rights, to be released after 48 hours, and the right to be released on bail in the absence of “compelling reasons”. The Constitution also provides for trial procedures and exclusion of certain evidence inappropriately obtained.
Did the police act in accordance with the constitution? Did they act in accordance with the rule of law? Zimbabwean analysts and bloggers close to the situation, in particular Musonza, state that the Friday incident was prompted by the fact that a top police commissioner is a member of a rival faction that is fighting the faction led by Budiriro-based Madzibaba Ishmael Mufani who is now facing abuse charges. The pro-Zanu PF church organisation Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) led by Johannes Ndanga concocted charges and came up with a mysterious Court order (not from the court) upon which the police commissioner instructed the riot police to go and enforce a ‘court order’.
As all this was happening, the police commissioner collapsed during a police parade, and again, according to the bloggers, the collapse was calculated for him to be distanced from the incident. On the basis of the above (if the bloggers can be believed), it could not be said that the police acted in accordance with the law but subverted the rule of law for political gains. In any event, even if they acted in accordance with the law, to pursue a legitimate aim, their conduct could not be said to have been proportionate in the circumstances. According to Zimbabwean bloggers, ‘An address by the Minister of Health and Social welfare or Education would’ve sufficed if there were issues around Education and Child Welfare’.
This was a classical case of abuse of security agencies in church rivalries. If the police had concerns about abuse by some of the church members it would have been proper and rightful for them to instigate individual arrests away from the shrine. The strategy by the police and Ndanga was to attack and destroy the group through fear thereby controlling the members and coercing them into submission.
Some bloggers are asking how Ndanga ended up becoming the representative of the Apostles, which is a diversified group with a lot of diverse beliefs that cannot be reconciled to any common denominator. Some believe that his position is a political one and is attempt by the government to control the indigenous churches to further their political ends. The Ndanga-led enforcement body is nothing but an attempt to assault religious freedoms for political gains. According to bloggers, ‘we never heard of a church enforcement body during the Kunonga madness in the Anglican fall-out. No one has interfered in how the Catholics in the country operate’.
Both civil society and the opposition need to speak out and take action on this issue. According to one blogger, ‘By the way; when will the opposition parties speak out on Budiriro ZRP bashing? We need an official remark on the state and crisis in national policing and problems caused by State interference in the church. I see so many posts here by many senior opposition parties figures; joking about the Budiriro Friday incident but there seems to be no one who is exercising a mature robust opposition role by offering timely analytical structured response to this; either to condemn or back both the police or VaPostori. Is it asking for far too much from people we have overestimated their abilities?’
Last Friday’s incident must be taken seriously by those who believe in the rule of law and religious freedom in Zimbabwe. It must also be taken seriously by those who believe in the intricate relationship between religion and politics in Zimbabwe. The way the Apostolic sects organised themselves to defend their territory resonates with Karl Marx’ social change theory rooted in the class struggle of the mid-nineteenth century relating directly to the conflict between the dominant (bourgeoisie) and subordinate (proletariat) social classes. Marx and Engels intended to provide a way of thinking that could help the proletariat regain control of their lives. This is exactly where the battlefield for social change in Zimbabwe ought to be located.