Church Leader Attacks State's Muzzling of Voices of Dissent

The head of the Anglican Diocese of Manicaland, Bishop Sebastian Bakare has denounced government officials who abuse their power to shut out voices of dissent from the public media.

Although he did not mention any names, Bakare's comments were widely perceived to be a jab at Zimbabwe's information minister Jonathan Moyo. Moyo crafted the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act in 2001 which is blamed for muzzling the private press and has seen the shutting down of three privately-owned newspapers in the space of one year.

Bakare is also the president of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, an umbrella body of churches in Zimbabwe.

Bakare's remarks come in the wake of last week's letter by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC) denouncing the government's repression of opposition political parties and civic society under the guise of protecting Zimbabwe's sovereignty.

"The Zimbabwe Council of Churches has been shunned by the state media because of one man's hatred of truth," Bakare said. "We have held important national meetings and made critical statements in line with our mandate to deliver the oppressed into the hands of the Almighty, but we have been told that we are politically incorrect. We have no recourse as long as some of these people are allowed to abuse their positions."

He claimed there was an unwritten rule to all staff at State media houses to snub all events or statements by Bishops Patrick Mutume of the ZCBC and Trevor Manhanga, the president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ).

The ZCC president said they jointly put out a statement to all media on the state of the nation at Christmas and Easter holidays but all they got was a snub by the state media.

He said the EFZ, the ZCBC and the ZCC were prepared to pay for the advertisement that was scheduled for publication in The Herald and the Sunday Mail but they were denied even that alternative.

"The statements that we made afterwards were not even anti-government. They were very fair and accurately reflected the situation on the ground. The idea is to shut us out of the public media so that we are not heard across the country. The media is not for one political party, neither is it for the purpose of denigrating other people."

Bakare has been denounced and belittled in the State media, together with Manhanga and Mutume for attempts to confront government on violence and governance issues.

The trio have been at the forefront in trying to bring Zanu PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to the negotiating table and help resolve political, economic and social conflicts that have bedevilled Zimbabwe for the past four years.

However, Zanu PF has refused to acknowledge the role the church leaders play in society and have gone on an all-out assault on their personalities, accusing them of fronting for the opposition MDC. The opposition party is accused of being a puppet of the British and the Americans out to achieve regime change in Zimbabwe.

Bakare said the violence in Zimbabwe's politics was a direct result of the existence of an "unfair electoral system which has created a lot of this unhappiness".

"This is where we think that as the Church, unless the situation is corrected, we will not have peace as a country," Bakare said. "Zanu PF is not prepared for dialogue with the opposition. All they need is to win the March 2005 parliamentary election at all costs. What we have been made to understand is that they want to focus on that alone."

In their pastoral letter, quoted in yesterday's issue of the Daily Mirror, the ZCBC said: "The media should serve all sections of the society. It is important that all political parties have access to media coverage so that they can inform the citizenry about how they intend to govern if they are elected into power."

Moyo and Patrick Chinamasa, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs have made it clear that the MDC would not be given access to the public broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH) because it was a disloyal party, funded by the British and the Americans to re-colonise Zimbabwe.