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African Tears Beyond Tears Innocent Victims Imire Can you hear the drums, by Cathy Buckle


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Where is the conscience of our nation?
July 7, 2017, 8:51 am

 

Dear Family and Friends,

Winter came to Zimbabwe this week with cold, grey skies and freezing nights. A very unusual heavy downpour of winter rain filled with hail stones in my home town left everyone running for cover and wrapping blankets round their shoulders. All week, as temperatures dropped I couldn’t get my mind off scores of men, women and children hiding out in the mountains a hundred kilometers away in Rusape, exposed, cold, homeless and newly unemployed after the actions of a clergyman.

 

Sometimes you have to look to the past to understand the present and Zimbabweans have not forgotten what happened on the last day of April 2003.

 

Fourteen years ago, twenty one church leaders were arrested in Harare when they tried to deliver a petition to the police. The clergymen representing the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Dutch Reformed, Presbyterian and Pentecostal churches had carried three large wooden crosses as they walked along the streets of Harare. Their petition to the police was for: "immediate corrective measures to ensure that the police force in this country performs its duties with respect for the church and all citizens of Zimbabwe".

 

Among the clergymen arrested in April  2003 was Bishop Trevor Manhanga, the president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe. Quoted in an article at the time by journalist Andrew Meldrum, Bishop Manhanga seemed undeterred by his arrest and said that it would “strengthen the resolve of the church to stop police abuse of power.”  Bishop Manhanga said: “…we are just carrying out our role to be the conscience of the nation. We cannot be silent in the face of violence and torture. The church must be the ears for those who cannot hear, the eyes for those who cannot see and the voice of the voiceless.”

 

“The conscience of the nation.” Powerful , hopeful words but ones that have often proved sadly empty in the years that have followed. As I write this letter Zimbabwe’s churches are so far silent on the events that have recently taken place in Rusape at the hands of one of their own.  

 

Fourteen years after saying the church was the conscience of the nation,  Bishop Trevor Manhanga is back in the front page news. Bishop Manhanga arrived on Lesbury Farm in Rusape with an “offer letter” and said he was taking over 100 hectares of the 700 hectare farm of which only 120 hecatres is arable. In a heart rending “plea to the churches to stand together against this evil,” Ben Freeth, describes what happened to Rob Smart, his son Darryn and their families and employees on Lesbury Farm.  The full article can be read on: http://www.mikecampbellfoundation.com A few brief extracts give a chilling taste of horror:

 

“The Bishop returned under cover of darkness and, together with the lands officer, painted trees to demarcate what he wanted… he also demarcated the homesteads for himself.”

“…the Bishop returned and erected a new cabin in front of the Smarts’ homestead gate…”

“…when Rob Smart was not present, police arrived. They broke into the office and ransacked it, even breaking into the safe. When the workers tried to resist, teargas was fired….”

“…police returned later, ransacked Rob and Darryn’s houses and seized Rob’s cellphone…”

…”From the hills where they were hiding out, the Smarts heard numerous shots fired by police.  Some of their workers fled into the hills to join them and told them that the police were also evicting them from their houses.  A number of them had been wounded. They said the Smarts must retreat further into the hills as the police were after them.  Even old women were hit by police and the thugs…”

“The police finally left at 8 pm after 10 hours of shocking violence and brutality.” 

“…the Messenger of Court herself had been seen taking the children’s toys and packing them into her car.”

 

After the eviction the roads to Lesbury Farm were barricaded with logs to stop the Smart family and their employees from returning to their homes. 100 employees and their families (numbering an estimated 500 people) have been left homeless, jobless and destitute; scores are hiding in the mountains while they try and work out what to do, where to go, how to survive.  The Smarts grew 60 hectares of tobacco and left behind 70 hectares of maize, a crop contracted by the Zimbabwe government in their Command Agriculture scheme.

 

The question we are all asking is where now is the “Conscience of the Nation;  the ears for those who cannot hear, the eyes for those who cannot see and the voice of the voiceless ?“ In April 2003 Bishop Manhanga said: “We cannot be silent in the face of violence and torture.” In this case looking to the past has not helped us understand the present.

 

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy. 7th July 2017. Copyright © Cathy Buckle. 



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