Nine-nation Bishops Rally Behind Zimbabwean Church Leadership amid Government Criticism

Catholic Bishops in nine Southern African countries have rallied behind their counterparts in Zimbabwe who have come under attack from the country’s political leadership over their recent Pastoral Letter in which they called on the government to address economic and political challenges bedeviling the country.

In the Thursday, August 20 statement obtained by ACI Africa, members of the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) express their “deepest regret and disappointment” over the government’s utterances against Catholic Bishops.

“The Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) wishes to express its support and solidarity with the Bishops of Zimbabwe On the Pastoral Letter titled, ‘The March has not ended’ issued on the 14th August 2020,” IMBISA members say in their August 20 statement.

“At the same time, we wish to express our deepest regret and disappointment with the response of the Government of Zimbabwe which, instead of dealing with the contents of the Pastoral Letter, sought to attack our brothers, the Bishops of Zimbabwe,” they add in their collective statement signed by IMBISA President, Bishop Lucio Muandula.

Members of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) have come under attack from the country’s leadership after they issued a strongly worded letter challenging President Emmerson Mnangagwa-led government to address Zimbabwe’s multiple crises, including human rights abuses in cracking down on critics, corruption, and a collapsed economy.


Reacting to the Bishops’ August 14 Pastoral Letter, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Monica Mutsvangwa “vehemently objected and strongly condemned” the Bishops’ pronouncements, singling out the President of Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC), Archbishop Robert Ndlovu.

“Archbishop Ndlovu dons the robes of Archbishop Arthanase Seromba who was the chief spiritual ideologist and violent practitioner of the 1994 Hutu-Tutsi Genocide of Rwanda,” Ms. Mutsvangwa said.

She added in her widely publicized statement, “With nefarious cynicism to history, Archbishop Robert Christopher Ndlovu is inching to lead the Zimbabwe Catholic congregation into the darkest dungeons of Rwanda-type genocide.”

Her counter in the Ministry of Justice, Ziyambi Ziyambi has described the Bishops’ Pastoral Letter as "inappropriately prescriptive and grossly disrespectful.”

The Justice Minister said that Zimbabwe government authorities have been offended by the Bishops’ reference to the country’s leadership as “lacking the knowledge, the skill or emotional stability to resolve Zimbabwe’s political and economic problems.”

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In a bid to establish whether the Bishops in Zimbabwe were speaking on behalf of the Holy See, the Zimbabwean government has reportedly sought audience with the Apostolic Nuncio in the country, Archbishop Paolo Rudelli.

“(The) government is compelled to engage the Vatican in order to ascertain whether or not such statements reflect the official attitude of the Holy See towards Zimbabwe's leadership or whether these are merely the views of the various individuals concerned," Mr. Ziyambi has been quoted as saying

The plan to reach out to the Holy Father’s representative in Zimbabwe comes after the Apostolic Nuncio visited Archbishop Ndlovu on August 16 to express his solidarity with the Zimbabwean Church leader.

In their August 20 statement, the Prelates drawn from Angola, Eswatini, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Sao Tome and Principe, Zimbabwe and Mozambique regret that the response of the government of Zimbabwe “selectively attempts to quote Pope Francis in its attack on the Bishops.”

“Pope Francis has, since the beginning of his Pontificate, emphasized that the mission of the Church should be to the geographic and existential peripheries whence is located the poor and marginalized persons of this world,” they say in their collective statement.


The members of IMBISA quote Pope Francis’ homily at the beginning of his Petrine Ministry in which he appealed to all those in positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill to be “protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

They point out that their counterparts in Zimbabwe “have only called out the Government of Zimbabwe to their true role as political leaders to protect all peoples, especially the poor and marginalized.” 

No society can truly call itself human if it neglects the poor and marginalized, IMBISA members reiterate and add, “Silencing different voices in society can only lead to more frustration and make a bad situation worse.”

“As Bishops of Southern Africa, we can never rest in supporting our brother Bishops in Zimbabwe who continue fulfilling the divine ministry, received from Christ that all indeed have life, and have it to the full,” the Catholic Church leaders of the nine-nation regional Conference say in their August 20 collective statement.