Courage Under Fire: Profile of Archbishop Pius Ncube
A Catholic cleric who has earned praise for confronting Zimbabwe's dictator plays a prophetic role in battling oppression.
Zimbabwe's leading Catholic cleric has openly called for divine intervention in restoring the country's fortunes that have been compromised by the lack of truthful leadership and a gross disrespect for human rights and social justice under President Robert Mugabe, himself a Catholic.
Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo says religion and politics cannot be separated as they both tackle the core issues of spiritual and physical needs of the rulers and those who are ruled. In the case of the beleagured Zimbabwe, once a paragon of independence, democracy, and social justice, President Mugabe has neglected his faith in ruling the country, says Archbishop Ncube.
In the latest example of the kind of merciless tactics against opponents of the regime decried by Ncube, Mugabe launched Operation Murambatsvina, or "drive out the rubbish," on May 19. Government agents have so far demolished 20,000 shacks and market stalls of an estimated 1 million urban poor who make up the core support for the Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe's chief opposition party. With neither shelter or means of support, the displaced are left exposed to the elements and vulnerable to starvation and disease.
I asked Archbishop Ncube what will happen to the poor people whohave now lost what little they had.
"This "clean-up" is the biggest evil action government has carried out to displace between 300,000 and 2 million people," Ncube says. "The churches have been trying to take in some of these people, to bring food and blankets to them, but they can only do so much. Some of their dwellings that have been around for the past 20 to 30 years have been razed to the ground. "The government is bankrupt. It is unable to provide housing for most of these people who were living in the informal settlements. Some of these houses were solid, built with the right architectural designs and with the approval of the council, but have been destroyed all the same. Look at what happened in Kuwadzana [a district of Harare supporting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, where police are continuing to destroy people's property].
"I believe government has reached a dangerous stage where it will do anything to cling to power, even at the expense of the people. The president, himself--I do not mind saying this--has lost his mind. How can he be so cruel to his people in the winter season? They have stolen the goods of the people. People have worked hard for the little that they have through cross-border trading and hawking and now they have lost that source of livelihood. There is 80-percent unemployment in the country now; inflation is rising, despite lies by [Zimbabwe's Reserve Bank governor Gideon] Gono; prices are rising every three months. There is no fuel and there is a shortage of basic commodities. People are short of money for food and for rent, now they have to deal with homelessness. To me, this is absolutely evil; it shows that the government will stop at nothing to get and keep power."
The archbishop has strong views about the religious significance of the regime's actions.
"These people in government worship power," he says. "This thing is demonic. Why did the Devil revolt against God? It is because of greed and love of power. The hearts of those in government have been taken over by the devil. There is a lot of hunger and starvation in the rural areas and Mugabe knew this in February but did not to correct the situation. He could have called for [international humanitarian] aid then, but for the sake of power he was prepared to sacrifice the lives of the people.
"Externally, these people [in the Mugabe regime] pretend to be Christian, but dishonor God's teaching of loving another and look out for one another, especially the poor and the weak. The United Nations should come in and take over. It should demand fresh elections, because the government has put the lives of the people at risk.
"The country's leadership has shown their total heartlessness. The people who elected them to take care of the people have no heart for them. They are cruel and heartless and will sacrifice the people. They have now destroyed licensed vendors. They want to control everything. This leadership must go. If the people of Zimbabwe do not chase them out, the international community should. They cannot dislodge Mugabe with the ballot, because he is a cheat. The Catholic bishops have issued a statement condemning this action by the government.
"It is clear that the leadership of this country is bent on staying in power even if the people die. The way forward is for the leadership to be taken out of power, because all negotiations have failed. Well the United Nations should take them but that will not happen, because Africa supports Mugabe.
"He [Mugabe] does not apply his faith to his political governance of the country," says Ncube. "He totally ignores it. He is hypocritical when it comes to that. Here is a man who goes to Mass, receives Holy Communion, and speaks at church meetings but yet he does not respect basic human rights. He goes to justify himself."
Bishop Ncube believes that religious leaders around the world have the moral duty to speak out against all forms of social injustice. He laments that in Zimbabwe, some of the clergy have backed Mugabe, whose skewed policies are evidenced in the political and economic crisis in his country of more than 11 million people.
"As far as I am concerned he [Mugabe] is a total failure as far as the application of human rights is concerned," says Ncube. "He has been rigging elections left, right, and center, parliamentary elections in 2000 and 2005, and presidential elections in 2002. He has totally rigged them and thereby shown himself to be untruthful. He has been killing innocent people through the Fifth Brigade [infamous North Korean-trained soldiers, loyal to the regime]. He is a murderer. He gets zero as far as human rights are concerned."
After secondary school training in Gweru, Ncube entered seminary in Chishawasha, completing his training for the priesthood in 1973. He was ordained at the age of 26 and served as priest in Kezi and Plumtree districts in the Matabeleland South province. He was later transferred to parishes in the city of Bulawayo before being ordained the first black archbishop of Bulawayo.