Shun Western aid, Mugabe tells Catholic bishops

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has urged the country's Catholic Church to free itself from Western donations that are likely to "suppress its voice".

"In my view, the church must remain a guiding light unto our path and should thus extricate itself from offers of assistance that suppress its voice," Mugabe was quoted as saying on Friday by the state media, while addressing a meeting of regional Catholic bishops.

"Quite often, when its voice is silenced, hate-filled, divisive and clearly foreign voices take over," Mugabe told an assembly of the Inter-regional Meeting of (Catholic) Bishops of Southern Africa.

Referring to the conference theme of self-reliance, Mugabe said even the government and political parties should shun foreign assistance aimed at substituting home-grown programmes.

"Our efforts at self-reliance should extend also to the domain of governance and politics.

"Where differences occur, we should seek to address these as brother and sisters in unity and refrain from [an] obsession with foreign interference," he told the bishops, who included one of his fiercest critics, Pius Ncube, archbishop of Zimbabwe's second city of Bulawayo.

"It is for this reason that my government refuses to allow NGOs to be used as instruments for the destabilisation of our country," he said.

Zimbabwe is soon to introduce a new law aimed at clamping down on NGOs dealing with issues of human rights and governance.

Although lawyers and analysts say the law will affect churches, Mugabe denied his government is hostile to the work of the church.

"Nothing, obviously, could be further from the truth. The proposed Bill seeks only to regulate the work of NGOs, some of which have dabbled in politics by interfering in the conduct of our nation's affairs," Mugabe said.