Originally published in Catholic News Agency
Christian leaders in Zimbabwe are stressing the need for civility and a peaceful transition as the country prepares for a major presidential election next month.
Leaders from different Christian groups met on May 28-30 in the capital city of Harare for a conference themed “Religious Leaders Supporting the Zimbabwe Peace Process.”
The conference was attended by major religious leaders, including the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, and Union for Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe.
Participants analyzed the peace processes in neighboring countries that have faced election violence, such as South African and Kenya.
Paul Muchena, national coordinator for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe, said the conference’s main goal was “to enhance the church’s participation in peace processes through such initiatives as dialogue, mediation, peace and reconciliation leading to national transformation.”
The July 30 elections will be the first since former president Robert Mugabe was ousted from power last November, ending his 37 years in office.
Mugabe had been in power since 1980. At the beginning of last November, thousands of protestors called for Mugabe’s resignation after he fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The Zimbabwe National Army then staged a coup and Mugabe was placed under house arrest while an impeachment hearing was opened against him. He announced his resignation on Nov. 21, and Mnangagwa assumed power.
Charges were brought against the former president by the Zanu-PF Members of Parliament. He was accused of violating the constitution in past elections and of illegally granting his wife, Grace Mugabe, political power.
The president was also accused of economic mismanagement. According to the BBC, the average Zimbabwe citizen is now 15 percent poorer than before Mugabe took power.
Mnangagwa posted a tweet on May 30 announcing the upcoming elections.
“These elections will be free, fair and transparent, and the voice of the people will be heard,” he said. “I call on all candidates to campaign peacefully and focus on the issues that really matter.”
Zimbabwe has formally invited the European Union to send an election observation mission, the first time in 16 years that the EU will be monitoring an election in the country.
During the conference of religious leaders, Bishop Rudolf Nyandoro of Gokwe, chairman of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe, decried slandering political practices. He cautioned that hate speech and slogans can motivate violence and are un-Christian.
“The behaviours and mannerisms we develop in politics especially when we are sloganeering, remove the Christian life and values we purport to have,” he said.
The bishop said Christians cannot place political ambitions over the desire for God. He urged people to remember that every person is created in the image and likeness of God.