Between 2004 and 2009 I visited Zimbabwe a number of times. The first visit exposed me to some of the realities and challenges of a beautiful country that Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF were turning into a nightmare. By my final visit inflation was around 10,000%, unemployment was sky high, and the bread basket of Africa had become a basket case.

I visited because the Diocese of Southwark (where I was the Bishop of Croydon) had longstanding partnership links with the Anglican dioceses in Zimbabwe. Croydon was linked with Central Zimbabwe, and I developed a friendship (based on huge admiration) with the Bishop, Ishmael Mukuwanda. I posted on this blog many times from and on Zimbabwe – simply put it in the search box and loads should come up.

So, watching the news now is heartening to an extent. At last, action has been taken to rid this country of its liberating tyrant and his Lady Macbeth wife whose name – Grace – is not matched by her character. It is no wonder that thousands of people are celebrating in the streets and that the Party is thought to be ready to dismiss Mugabe as party leader tomorrow. There can be no going back.

But, to what might the country be going forward? This is the hard question. It is easy to celebrate the end of Mugabe’s reign; but, what will now follow? Freedom from is not the hard bit; freedom to or for demands far more.

Ten years ago I was clear that the key to Zimbabwe’s future had to be the reestablishment of the rule of law – not just any law, but law as internationally recognised. Without the rule of law, nothing could be relied on. And, yet, now, we see the dethronement of Mugabe … but only by his own party. The same party will appoint a new leader, and this leader will continue the rule of ZANU PF. It will take someone brave or reckless to bring democracy back to Zimbabwe; in the meantime, Mugabe’s departure will not change much at all in terms of who is in charge, how they will run the country, and whose interests will be protected.

Clearly, today is for celebrating an ending. But, tomorrow will bring a beginning. And that beginning will probably be a continuing of what has gone before. It is too early to celebrate a new world for the wonderful people of this wonderful country. What we can be sure of, however, that the Anglican Church, with all its fallibilities and fragilities, will keep on plugging away imaginatively and creatively, serving communities and people in quiet, unsung ways, silently tilling the ground for a harvest they believe will one day come.

Saturday 8 & Sunday 9 August 2009

We got back from a long day in Gokwe to find the power was off. So was my laptop battery, so I couldn’t write anything last night. Now, having just got back from KweKwe, the power is on and my battery can re-charge. This is also the reason for a long delay in approving comments on other posts – and for my inability to respond to them – I won’t be able to publish these posts until I return. Which, of course, means that by the time you read this I will either be at Johannesburg Airport or already back in Blighty.

Gokwe is over 200km from Gweru and we left yesterday morning without anything to eat or drink at 6.15am. Never trust a Zimbabwean youth conference programme when it comes to meal times! Over 450 young people had come from all over Central Zimbabwe for a conference lasting from Friday night through to Tuesday afternoon. Ishmael and I got there and led the Eucharist at which I was preaching. The service was scheduled to start at 8am and finish at 10am in time for breakfast. We finished at 10.05am, but went back in for speeches and more singing and dancing. Breakfast happened after 11.30am. Then everyone was called back together for my speech (!). We finished at 2pm when lunch was supposed to have ended and the sports competition begun. So, they decided to go straight to sports and come back to lunch when it was ready later.

Gokwe & Kwekwe 010Ishmael and I went to visit some people at St Agnes (where there is a church, a healing centre, an orphanage, a clinic and various other church-run facilities. We eventually got back to the school where the conference is taking place at 4pm only to find that the sports were coming to an end and lunch was ‘nearly ready’. We decided to hit the road and get back to Gweru not long after dark – a journey of between 2-3 hours of fast driving on a near-empty road. By the time we got to eat in the evening (wonderful!), I had a slamming headache and was dead tired.

In Ishmael’s speech to the young people he addressed head-on the problems of Zimbabwe, pointing out that Zimbabwe cannot blame anyone else for the violence that was inflicted by Zimbabweans on Zimbabweans. He called the young people to take responsibility for their future, to eschew violence and hatred and to put their Christian faith/identity ahead of their tribal or other affiliations. Christians have to take seriously their ministry of reconciliation – at every level – and must re-shape their country and regain the image the country once had. He addressed this at a political, economic and ecclesial level. It was direct, brave and unequivocal.

When I was asked to speak, I decided simply to reinforce Ishmael’s thrust. Blaming Britain for Zimbabwe’s current plight is not good enough. Sure, we have made big mistakes in the past, but we cannot now re-write the history; we have to take responsibility for shaping the future and not simply use the past to justify today’s failure or tomorrow’s inadequacies. I invited the young people – as the parents of tomorrow, the teachers of tomorrow, the leaders of tomorrow, the politicians of tomorrow – to be like the prophets of the Old Testament, holding out a vision of hope for a better future, even while the evidence of their eyes today might not promise it. I went on to commend our diocesan link as one of partnership based on our unity in Jesus Christ – a relationship of love and mutual concern.

These messages were repeated this morning at KweKwe where I was asked to preach (on Ephesians 5:1), preside and confirm 27 candidates. The service began at 8.30am and finished at 11.35am. Then we went back in for speeches (!) and finally finished at 12.40pm. Lunch was welcome and plentiful.

The import of this visit has been to see again what is going on, to get an update on projects we support, to encourage and support the church here and to do some business on the future of the link between the Croydon Episcopal Area and the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe. It has inevitably touched on politics, economics, social issues (HIV-Aids, orphans, water/power generation, education, etc.): the church does not operate in splendid spiritual isolation, but is strongly connected in the wider communities, some of whom would have nothing if the church did not provide it.

Clearly, with an improving economic and political situation (but recognising the continuing problems and the fragility of the current situation), the future for us will involve a concentration on building capacity and expertise, investing in the people/leaders who can build that capacity locally in the future.

Yes, it could all collapse. Even the end of Zanu PF might (given some of what I heard) bring an opportunity for revenge against those who created the tension and violence of the last couple of years. But, for the moment, the optimism cannot be gainsaid and the future is looking better than it has at any time in the last decade. For years decline looked to be inevitable; now the dynamic appears to be upward again.