Out to dry

"Out to dry" Continued...

Issue: "Biblical callings," Dec. 4, 2010

Many fear that such roadblocks signal a return to election-year harassment and intimidation. Instead of regarding the charity work as much-needed help, ZANU PF zealots often see it as a threat to the regime, or an instrument of the opposition. "There are always threats, and people go along out of fear," said one Zimbabwean who asked not to be identified-out of fear.

"Nobody would dispute the statement that in free and fair elections Morgan Tsvangirai would emerge as the clear winner. Our difficulty is getting free and fair elections," said Eddie Cross, a member of Parliament and economic adviser to Tsvangirai. Cross, who is white, opposed the white rule of Ian Smith but joined the MDC in 1999 over the corruption and decline under the black rule of Mugabe.

"Yes, we are part of the government now," he said of the MDC, "but we don't have any hard power. And the only real power to change our circumstances lies with regional leaders, like South Africa . . . but they are ambivalent." One reason for that, Cross believes, is that regional leaders are themselves tied to their own revolutionary parties that led their countries out from colonial-era rule to black rule, and they are unwilling to turn against ZANU PF: "We have mixed feelings about democracy in this part of the world."

Earlier this month a coalition of church groups issued a strongly worded statement in light of increasing reports of intimidation by security forces, calling for an election delay. "The political environment remains highly volatile, uncertain, and tense," the groups said, and "does not favor the holding of elections," which Mugabe wants to take place next June. The joint statement by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Christian Alliance, and the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe warned that 2011 elections will lead to violence. It also said free and fair elections aren't possible unless laws and institutions set up to favor Mugabe's party are changed.

"I believe the church is the strongest force in Zimbabwe next to ZANU PF," one Harare pastor told me. And in recent years it has grown in its opposition to Mugabe, a shift not lost on the president. Mugabe not only has increased pressure on church ministries, the Catholic president also has distanced himself from traditional church activities in favor of a growing sect known as Vapostori, or apostolics.

In July Mugabe made an unexpected appearance at a Vapostori gathering wearing a long white robe and carrying a long stick typical of the group. Vapostori congregate usually outdoors and sometimes for days at a time, dotting the hillsides with their starched-white head coverings. Some wear or carry crosses, but the group is syncretistic, blending tribal worship with Christian teaching along with charms and potions.

"Some of the churches have very beautiful buildings but go against the Bible. Could that be God's church?" Mugabe said, referencing the Anglican Church, which he said "condones marriages between men." Mugabe and the Anglican Church have long tangled: In 2008 the church excommunicated Nolbert Kunonga, the former bishop of Harare and an ally of Mugabe, for trying to withdraw his diocese and seize church property. Mugabe in return gave Kunonga a farm confiscated from a white farmer (see sidebar). Recently, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said Anglican bishops in Zimbabwe have been threatened with assassination.

John Bell, senior pastor at Central Baptist, believes that despite the circumstances, the church continues to have an important role to play. "I am not hopeful in terms of the country. I think it is going to stay bad or get worse. But I am very hopeful about the church. If I didn't think the church makes a difference, I wouldn't still be here. And the church as people of God are doing well. This is what God does in bad times-He does good for His people."

Losing the land

Mugabe-led farm confiscations continue

By Mindy Belz

Gary and Jane Sharp have spent over 10 years trying to hold onto their 3,000-acre farm at Shamva in northeastern Zimbabwe, which they moved to with government permission in 1987, but in September-following a lengthy court battle and the seizure of their home that left their son trapped inside-they gave it up.

Sharp had successfully diversified a traditional cotton, maize, and wheat operation to include tomatoes, citrus, and bananas, earning buy-in from Malaysian investors and gross crop revenue of $1.5 million a year. He employed 500 black workers. "But early on we were given an ultimatum, either give up half or lose all of it to the state," he said.

Commercial farming in Zimbabwe was majority white-owned until just over a decade ago, when President Robert Mugabe launched a policy of land confiscation to forcibly turn farm management from successful white owners to black, politically connected farmers who in most cases proved agriculturally illiterate. Zimbabwe's farm population-including blacks employed in white-owned operations-a decade ago totaled 2 million. Today it is 350,000. Of nearly 5,000 white commercial farm operations, less than 600 remain.

"It's almost impossible to hold a rational discussion about land in Africa," said Eddie Cross, a member of Parliament from MDC, the opposition party now in a unity government with Mugabe. "If you are white and a farmer and you own land, then you are part of the colonial past, even if your family has been here for generations. You are naked in a snowstorm." Cross (who is white) said land reform has been needed to allow blacks an agricultural stake, "but what's emerged in Zimbabwe is criminal land reform."

Extensive media coverage of violent confrontations between white farmers and black ZANU PF units sent to chase them from their farms has recently subsided. But the violent confrontations have not.

Sharp agreed to divide his farm because he had seen the protracted battles other farm owners endured with the government. But that didn't stop armed Zanu PF youth gangs from harassing his workers, and at one point for three weeks surrounding the Sharp home with the couple's 23-year-old son locked inside, able to get food only through neighbors. During that time the government besiegers also did extensive crop damage.

The Sharps went to court and eventually won their case, but despite the ruling authorities tried to arrest Sharp earlier this year and eventually succeeded in forcing the case back to court. "We were carrying on believing we had the blessing of the authorities, but we had nothing," he said. After another court proceeding attended by Mrs. Sharp in June to secure the family's personal belongings, she was arrested upon leaving the court and held in the Shamva jail overnight. That was enough to convince the Sharps to give up the battle (leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and crops on the property) and begin looking for an alternative form of income. Continued confiscations ironically are uniting many blacks and whites in opposition to Mugabe as it becomes clear that black farm workers suffer, too, and commercial farming is on its heels. As Sharp said, "It's destroyed our community."


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