Zimbabwe’s influential Catholic bishops on Friday deplored an “unprecedented” government crackdown on dissent against a backdrop of economic ruin and allegations of rampant rights abuses.
In a rare and unusually strong pastoral letter, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference weighed in on the ongoing crisis, which the government denies exists.
“Fear runs down the spine of many of our people today. The crackdown on dissent is unprecedented,” said seven bishops from the country’s main cities and towns in a letter issued on Friday.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has lately come under heavy criticism over recent its crackdowns on dissent, including detentions, assaults and intimidation.
“Voices of various governments, the European Union, the African Union and the UN on the desperate situation in Zimbabwe have not only confirmed the seriousness of the human rights breaches by government agents but the need to rally behind #ZimbabweanLivesMatter” the bishops said.
“The struggle in Zimbabwe, has resulted in a multi-layered crisis of the convergence of economic collapse, deepening poverty, food insecurity, corruption and human rights abuses among other crisis in urgent need of resolution,” the bishops said.
They also said “corruption in the country has reached alarming levels”.
The bishops’ statement comes weeks after authorities banned protests planned by an opposition politician and deployed the army and riot police in huge numbers to quell them.
Transform Zimbabwe party leader Jacob Ngarivhume who called for the July 31 protests against state corruption and worsening economic troubles, was arrested 12 days ahead of the strike.
Journalist and documentary filmmaker Hopewell Chin’ono was also detained along with him. They both remain in jail after being denied bail.
More than a dozen protesters, including award-winning author Tsitsi Dangarembga, were arrested on July 31 and later freed on bail.
The bishops said the call for “demonstrations is an expression of growing frustration and aggravation caused by conditions that the majority of Zimbabweans find themselves in.”
They warned that “suppression of people’s anger can only serve to deepen the crisis and take the nation into deeper crisis”.
Zimbabwe’s economy has been on a downturn for over a decade with shortages of fuel and basic commodities such as sugar and the staple cornmeal.
But the government of Mnangagwa, who took over from long-time ruler Robert Mugabe after a coup in 2017, pledging to weed out corruption and revive the moribund economy, says there is no crisis in the country.
“All said, there is no crisis in Zimbabwe which needs external intervention under established international treaties and conventions,” Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said on Thursday.
South Africa send a team of special envoys to Harare last week but they returned after meeting only the president.