Zimbabwe: Churches, Clergy in Mugabe's Pocket

Harare, Zimbabwe - ZANU PF and its allies in the Church have cancelled the National Day of Prayer which is held annually on 25 May and replaced it with the Zimbabwe Day of Prayer to be celebrated on 25 June.

The move has sent profound shock through the Christian community in the country which has denounced the marriage between sections of the church and a government which stands accused of gross human rights violations including genocide, torture, and political harassment and starving of political opponents.

Zanu PF's moves against the church comes amid growing fears in the ruling party that some sections of the church had become too vocal against the government's repressive rule.

The new day of prayer was proposed after pro-Zanu PF church leaders met officials from the ruling party's Commissariat and Information departments recently.

Reverend Andrew Muchechetere, one of the key people organising the prayers, said the State-owned Zimbabwe United Passenger Company, ZUPCO, would ferry passengers from "the usual pick-up points".

Church insiders said the State was expected to meet most of the costs as it tries to win the support of the Christian community.

The public address system for now is expected to come from the government, sources said.

In order to get as many Christians to rally behind Zanu PF, the church leaders are working with Minister without Portfolio and Zanu PF secretary for the Commissariat, Elliot Manyika.

Ruling party supporters and church leaders that support Zanu PF are now expected to gather at Glamis Stadium in Harare for the Zimbabwe Day of Prayer on 25 June.

When asked why they had been meeting Manyika he said: "I cannot provide information like that because there are people who might use it as ammunition against us."

According to an internal memo, circulating among pro-government religious organisations, President Robert Mugabe will attend the prayers and address the gathering.

A similar event is being organised in Bulawayo where the city's governor, Cain Mathema, is expected to deliver the President's speech.

Other gatherings to be attended by Zanu PF officials will be staged in all the country's major centres to try and win more supporters for the ruling party.

Since 1998, the National Day of Prayer has been held under the stewardship of the Intercessors for Zimbabwe, led by Reverend John Chimbambo.

A new national prayer taskforce comprising "politically correct" church leaders was appointed and will now prepare for the government-sponsored Zimbabwe National Day of Prayer.

Reliable sources said the ruling party had successfully infiltrated the church after Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) operatives and war veterans were trained as pastors with some of them successfully rising to lead religious groups.

The internal memo, written by Muchechetere, reads: "We all agreed to the need for such an event and the modalities of holding the event, including how government will participate. One government representative, who could be the State President, will declare the nation back to God."

Church insiders said the National Day of Prayer was postponed twice because it clashed with Mugabe's schedule.

"The prayers were supposed to be held on 25 May and later postponed to 4 June because of clashes with Mugabe's schedule.

But our fear as church leaders is that it looks like people will be worshipping Mugabe and not God. It looks like the church has been completely taken over by Zanu PF politicians," said the insiders. "Remember that 25 May was the day on which some of our colleagues in church leadership were singing the government's praises at State House."

The decision to invite Mugabe for the Zimbabwe Day of Prayer was arrived at by a group of church leaders after they were feted at State House where they sang Mugabe's praises.

However, the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, a grouping of church leaders around the country has attacked the outcome of the visit to State House led by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe.

The Alliance says the church leaders should have told Mugabe that the country was in turmoil because of bad governance, unjust laws, corruption, lack of integrity, and the unfair distribution of resources.

The Alliance questioned which aspects of the Zanu PF government's rule ZCC leaders Peter Nemapare and Densen Mafinyane supported.

"Do they support the evils of Gukurahundi, the violent land reform, Operation Murambatsvina, cronyism, State-sponsored violence, and setting up concentration camps or corruption?" the alliance asked.

When asked if they were going to engage the opposition MDC in the same manner they had Mugabe, one of the bishops said there was nothing definite yet as regards opposition political parties.