Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Repression Must End

Archbishop Ncube of Bulawayo tells IWPR that Mugabe must stop torturing and raping Zimbabweans.
By IWPR Srdan
Archbishop Pius Ncube is a man of very firm nerves and has over the past few years emerged as the most convincing opponent of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe's autocratic government. Many describe Ncube, the Roman Catholic prelate for Zimbabwe's second city Bulawayo, as the country's Desmond Tutu, after the South African cleric who was one of those at the forefront of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Ncube is one of two most senior ranking Catholic clerics in Zimbabwe. He refuses to be silenced and his anti-Mugabe rhetoric seems to be getting more rigorous by the day. Ncube shared his thoughts on the Zimbabwean crisis with IWPR correspondent Basildon Peta in Johannesburg.

Peta: What is the current state of human rights in Zimbabwe?

Ncube: It is pretty bad. Things keep on getting worse, with no respite in sight. We have an election next year and I can tell you that I don't hold any hope for the opposition. There is definitely no chance for a free and fair election. Mugabe has oiled his rigging machinery. The repressive media and security laws are firmly in place against the opposition. The youth militias are at work. He [Mugabe] will manipulate food aid and use it as a political tool. He is telling the world there is enough food in the country when everyone knows that this is not the case. His plan is to kick out all donors and be in charge of food aid distribution himself. He will then use it as a political weapon to buy votes. The playing field is so uneven that I don't see anyone other than ZANU-PF winning the election. The opposition (the Movement for Democratic Change - MDC) will be lucky to walk away with a dozen seats.

Peta: What would it take to ensure a free and fair election in Zimbabwe?

Ncube: Pressure must be put on Mugabe to reform. Our regional neighbours, particularly South Africa, are letting us down. They don't seem to realise that a peaceful and stable Zimbabwe is in the interests of the entire region. They must insist that Mugabe abides by the SADC (the Southern African Development Community) norms on free and fair elections.

Peta: What kind of pressure should they consider?

Ncube: They must threaten sanctions against Mugabe. South Africa must threaten to cut off electricity and fuel supplies if Mugabe does not change. We surely cannot have this quiet diplomacy (by South Africa) which has failed. The MDC must also bring pressure to bear on Mugabe. They must influence change from within the country. They have been a bit passive. A combination of internal and external pressure is what is needed.

Peta: You have acknowledged the constraints that the opposition faces. The draconian laws, the militias and other forms of repression used against the opposition. How can you then accuse them (the MDC) of being passive in light of all the difficulties they have to endure?

Ncube: Yes the MDC have a difficult time but they have to be more active. They have to be able to organise civil action to confront Mugabe. The opposition should sacrifice more. They should be with the people. They could certainly do more in providing real leadership. I travel to the rural areas [of Zimbabwe] and I get the feeling that people feel leaderless. They feel as if they are on their own. There is little to show that the MDC is with the people.

Peta: What is the challenge therefore for the opposition and for Zimbabwe?

Ncube: I think the challenge for Zimbabwe is to find a new leader who can inspire the people. Wherever you go, people are grumbling. They say they have no strong leader who can stand with us. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is there but he is not punchy enough, not convincing enough. Look at how Mahatma Gandhi inspired his people to die for their cause. Mahatma was a great leader who managed to achieve what he did because he was able to inspire his people. In Zimbabwe, we need to find such a leader. We don't seem to have one. We have no one inspiring the people; we have no one telling them to die for their cause.

Peta: Aren't you being unfair on Mr Tsvangirai? He is a man in chains. He faces two treason charges. Anything he tries to do is labelled treacherous and he is jailed. He can't really do anything under Mugabe's reign of terror, can he?

Ncube: He must convince people to be self-sacrificing, even in the face of trouble. Look at what happened during apartheid. People, including schoolchildren, were self-sacrificing. They came out in full force to confront the apartheid police. The problem in Zimbabwe is we want to play it safe. There is this tendency among Zimbabweans of leaving everything to God. That is very fatalistic. God works through human beings and thus this business of deferring everything to God is perilous. I put this challenge to Tsvangirai. If he organises people well enough to confront Mugabe and tell him he is no longer wanted, I don't think Mugabe will shoot everyone.

Peta: So if Zimbabweans are not self-sacrificing, as you say, and if there is no sustained action from them to liberate themselves from the shackles of this regime, why should you expect South Africa and other foreigners to put pressure on Mugabe?

Ncube: I say so because Zimbabweans need help from their neighbours. Even during apartheid, South Africa got a lot of help from us. Zimbabweans are tired and discouraged. They therefore need all the help they can get from outside so that they can regain their confidence to confront this regime. This is a human rights issue after all. The African Union should take a stand where human rights are abused. Unfortunately, they are not doing that. They cover up for each other and use their summits to enjoy tea and coffee.

Peta: Are you frustrated that all your efforts in getting the Zimbabwe crisis resolved and your outspokenness have not helped?

Ncube: No, I have no regrets at all. I feel one man (Mugabe) has no right to hold to ransom an entire nation. He is killing our young people and destroying their future. He is an octogenarian who has had the best of life but is now trying to block everyone else from doing the same. But I will not keep quiet. I won't be frustrated into silence. For as long as Mugabe remains an embodiment of evil, I will speak out against him - or anyone else for that matter.

Peta: What has happened to all the victims of violence in Zimbabwe?

Ncube: Some are suffering in silence... Some are being rehabilitated in some church-run projects in Zimbabwe and in South Africa. As you know, many have fled the country. They flee immediately after their experiences. I have met a lot of them here in South Africa and their plight is very bad. Many are being housed by churches. Even blind people have left. They are living a horrible life. Imagine a group of 30 people living in one house.

Peta: What is the challenge for human rights workers? Are they still able to function normally in Zimbabwe?

Ncube: Mugabe has been restricting the work of NGOs. It is difficult for anyone who is not a ZANU-PF sympathiser to work in this environment. But the NGOs have to keep trying. They have to go to the people. They can't give up.

Peta: Have you appealed to the Vatican for help?

Ncube: I personally have not appealed to the Vatican but I know the Pope is very worried about the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. He summoned the Zimbabwean ambassador to the Vatican to register his concerns about the abuses in Zimbabwe.

Peta: And why is the church in Zimbabwe not speaking with one voice? It appears it is only you that is speaking out.

Ncube: There are others who try to speak out. There are church leaders who have been trying to help resolve the crisis. But there are also others who have been bought out by Mugabe. So we have cowards as well.

Peta: Has Mugabe tried to buy you out as well?

Ncube: They offered me a farm and I refused to accept it.

Peta: If you meet Mugabe, what would you tell him?

Ncube: That his time is up and he must end the suffering he has visited on the people of Zimbabwe. His government must stop torturing, raping and murdering our people.

Basildon Peta is the Zimbabwe correspondent for the London-based Independent & Independent on Sunday.