Your letter dated 9th of August on the above subject is acknowledged with many thanks. Equally, the accompanying pastoral call by the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD), dated Friday, 9th March, 2019, refreshed by way of ZHOCD meeting in Chinhoyi on 8th August,2019,is acknowledged in the same.
Thank you, Dear Reverend, for both communications, and for prayers, felicitations and peace you wish me personally, and our beloved country as a whole.
In responding to your thoughtful and appropriate communication as the spiritual guardians of our God-fearing nation, let me, at the outset, express on behalf of Government and the people of Zimbabwe, deep appreciation for the lifting spiritual services and community work religious bodies continue to render to our people as our nation goes through temporary difficulties we face currently.
In particular, please accept Government’s deep appreciation of the role churches and other religious organisations played in the aftermath of the devastating Cyclone Idai which affected four of our ten provinces, claiming many lives, as well as disrupting and displacing various families and communities in affected areas. The spirit of deep empathy, compassion and sharing shown in the wake of the catastrophe bespoke of the strong Christian and religious values and impulses which organisations and denominations such as yours have inculcated, and which our nation continues to tap into in times of disasters and adversities.
In paying tribute to you, I am mindful of the sterling work you continue to render to rural communities in the wake of the devastating 2018/2019 drought which hit our nation. The recent joint UN/Government Humanitarian Appeal should go quite some way in helping with mobilisation of resources so this drought does not turn into famine. On its part, Government continues to distribute food to all needy families, and to augment national stocks through grain imports for national survival. As before, we count on your usual support and involvement in overcoming this challenge.
Dear Reverend, your communications to me raised a number of concerns, among them issues to do with political polarisation and the National Dialogue which should cure it; constitutional rights and their enjoyment within limits set out by the law; the ongoing economic challenges and economic reforms Government has embarked on in order to address them and, challenges which Zimbabwean, principally the vulnerable, continue to face in the wake of austerity measures necessary to recover and grow our economy for a brighter future. My response is structured around these key concerns which Government shares.
Political Polarisation and National Dialogue
As the ZHOCD would be aware, the National Dialogue of all political parties in our country was called and initiated on the 6th February 2019. Before then, on 2nd August2018 soon after the historic July, 2018 harmonised elections and the unfortunate violence that followed, I, as leader of ZANU-PF, and as the President-elect, called for harmony and dialogue in our nation. Including pointedly calling on, and inviting the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Advocate Nelson Chamisa, to come on board in amity and brotherhood, to rebuild our broken peace and to re-unite our people in order to take our nation forward.
Specifically, and pointedly, I called upon the two of us to “lead by example and show Zimbabweans that peace is paramount”. Beyond that particular call, I also offered to take steps towards officially recognising Advocate Chamisa as the leader of the Opposition, the first ever such move and in conformity with Commonwealth practice.
Sadly, both my personal calls to him, and all political leaders and parties of our nation regardless of status, went unheeded, and are still to be reciprocated by the MDC leader.
Top date, eight meetings on National Political Dialogue involving 19 political parties and leaders have taken place with the inaugural dialogue summit having been launched in Harare on 17th May, 2019.
Significantly on 8th March, 2019, just a day before your PASTORAL call, thematic committees of the National Dialogue had met at State House, again without the participation of the MDC and its leadership. Since then, the National Dialogue has consensually appointed two convenors, one who is a retired judge and the other who is a chairperson of the Gender Commission which is appointed through Parliament. The two’s stature as impartial convenors of the National Dialogue can hardly be gainsaid.
As late as two days ago, at commemorations of Heroes and Defence Forces Day, I again made a passionate call for national dialogue and national unity for the sake of peace and progress of our nation. The MDC leader is still to requite my goodwill, so repeatedly and unconditionally expressed and extended. Much worse, he is still to respect the legitimate will of the Zimbabwean people, as expressed in the results of the 2018 Harmonised Elections, which the MDC unsuccessfully contested through the Constitutional Court. Repeatedly, the rhetoric from the MDC is one of threatening to overturn the constitutional order ushered in by these internationally observed Harmonised Elections.
It is quite disheartening that not even the disaster which hit our nation in the form of Cyclone Idai would motivate him into a change of heart thus joining hands with the rest of the national leadership in collectively showing sympathies and bringing comfort to our distressed communities.
Still, I want to assure you and heads of Christian denominations that I personally will not tire of going one extra mile for the sake of peace and unity in our nation. The doors of National Dialogue are still open to all political leaders including to the leader of the MDC, which dialogue must proceed without preconditions or any sense of preferential entitlement or recognition on any one’s part, including myself. We are all equal, important and useful in finding solutions to challenges facing our nation. As heads of Christian denominations, I hope you can weigh in and lean on the MDC leader, and one or two other still outside the dialogue process, so they overcome their egos to reconsider their stance for the sake of peace and the progress of our nation. I am heartened that you as heads of Christian denominations recognise that National Dialogue is indeed underway.
Constitutional Rights and the Rule of Law
While Section 59 of our Constitution guarantees “every person… . the right to demonstrate and present petitions to the governing authorities, the same section underlines that these rights must be exercised peacefully”. This right which your pastoral call correctly highlights, has a particular bearing on the MDC as they prepare and embark on their demonstration in a few days’ time.
The responsibility to ensure that their demonstration unfolds within the iron-clad parameters set out by Section 59 of our Constitution, principally rests with them if they are mature and responsible political players. On this part, Government has no intention of abridging the enjoyment of this right by whomsoever. Or of reacting disproportionately as long as the demonstrations remains peaceful. What Government will not do is abdicating its responsibility to ensure the full observance of law and order to protect life and limb, to ensure complete security of persons and property, and to guarantee that national peace prevails undisturbed before during and after the demonstrations.
I note with comfort that you also recognises this responsibility of Government.
Economic Challenges and Economic Reforms
Our country is going through economic challenges and hardships largely traceable to decades of punitive sanctions imposed by some Western countries in the wake of our just Land Reform Programme. The punitive measures which included the isolation of our country, Zimbabwe, levied a heavy toll on our economy, which, for historical reasons, grew closely linked to the West. Equally, the challenges we now face, even against the background of positive economic performance and projection of the previous year, have been aggravated by the twin disaster of a searing drought, which was overlaid by the cyclone.
These three adversities have set us back at a time when our Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) by which we will turn around our economy, is in full swing. Like all stabilisation programmes, the TSP brings along hardships which are both necessary and unavoidable for a sustained economic turnaround to occur. I fully agree and acknowledge difficulties which our people are facing as we seek to re-gear our economy after years of weak performance and even negative growth.
However, we must continue on the path of reforms in spite of temporary hardships for a better tomorrow. Indeed signs of recovery and positive growth are now ample, with clear indications that more jobs are now being created than ever before. On its part, Government continues to institute all-round reforms internally, while engaging and re-engaging the international community for support.
The efforts are beginning to pay off as our country becomes more and more compliant with international benchmarks, while winning more and more international goodwill and support. As Government intensifies its engagement and re-engagement efforts, I implore you as our conscience industry to play your part as best as you know how, in bringing about this much needed rapprochement. Zimbabwe cannot continue along the path of isolation. Needless to say, economic recovery and growth require an environment of peace engendered by all Zimbabweans moving beyond the divisive and distracting election mode we all were in a year ago.
Safety Nets to Cushion the Vulnerable
As already acknowledged, economic reforms do spawn many difficulties, especially on vulnerable sections of our society. This is the more so amidst a bad agricultural season such as we have had. It is for this reason that Government must put in place mechanisms for cushioning vulnerable members of our society who are susceptible to economic shocks.
My Government welcomes your expressions of concern for the poor vulnerable. Indeed that is your sacred role as the Church. Mindful of present difficulties facing all our people, Cabinet weekly gets updates on food security and on assessments of welfare and threshold levels for families, whether in urban or rural areas. Indeed, the picture emerging is that of greater need nationwide, requiring greater relief effort from Government. We expect this situation of need to peak from November this year until the next harvest.
Apart from intensifying food distribution targeting all needy Zimbabweans Government has already concluded grain importation agreements with various suppliers to augment our dwindling national grain stocks. This food relief effort covers needy households in both rural and urban areas, all without exception. Pledges from donor partners and organisations have been forthcoming since the Humanitarian Appeal jointly launched last week by Government and the UNDP.
I am aware that churches have been playing their part in augmenting Government efforts. This must be applauded. Apart from free food handouts, Government has already started food-for-work projects in various communities with a view to empowering and developing those commuties.As before, Government will ensure the distribution of agricultural inputs in readiness for the season. Already, Government is aware that the communal herd has been severely depleted from drought-related diseases and poor pastures. Thus it is looking at ways of introducing draught power as part of an overall inputs package.
Regarding transport costs which have been rising against static or even diminishing incomes and livelihoods. Government continues to invest in a viable public transport system by replenishing ZUPCO’s fleet, andadapting our rail system to commuter needs.
The ever escalating prices of basic commodities continue to worry us. Whilst the prevailing price instability may be attributable to the ongoing reforms, some price movements are unjustifiably traceable to sheer greed.
We all need to raise our voices against such business malpractices, especially in a difficult year such as we face. Already Government has taken steps both to avail affordable basics to consumers, and to bring to book those profiteering by charging extortionate prices on the buying public.
While Government continues to review wages and salaries for its workers, the same can hardly be said of the private sector where wages remain static or eroding. Again we must continue to appeal to our business sector to empathise with the hard-pressed working class.
Let me conclude by thanking you personally Reverend, and all the Heads of Christian Denominations, for bringing these concerns to my attention and that of Government. Let me assure you that Government’s doors remain open for engagement by all sections of society. Personally, I believe that no platforms for national peace building should be spurned or overlooked, for whatever reason. Already, our engagement with communities in Matabeleland and parts of Midlands caught up in violence of the early days of our Independence, are beginning to bear fruit.
The ethic of dialogue in place of conflict must be consolidated to become the normal way of resolving differences and overcoming challenges which come our way as a nation.
Equally, with wide-ranging reforms underway, including in the way we conduct our politics, elections must never be a basis or excuse for antagonisms and animosities that divide and polarise our nation. For this, we also count on you, our Church and religious leaders, to reinforce our efforts.
Once again thank you for writing to me.