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.

BY: Julius Dawu


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Born Alec Vundlana in 1946 in what was then Rhodesia, Bishop Ncube spent his early childhood in Gwanda, in Zimbabwe's rural south before moving to Bulawayo for his early education. School at the Catholic-run St. Patrick's Primary School sharpened the young man's resolve to joint the priesthood. He adopted the name Pius at his baptism at the age of 14 in 1960.

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.

In his criticism of the Mugabe regime, Bishop Ncube takes his cue from his mentors during his seminary training. It was then that he became aware of the work of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP). Bishops at the time were vocal in opposing the injustices perpetrated by the colonial government of Ian Smith in what was then Rhodesia. They criticized the Smith government's land policy and the political segregation under which Africans were second-class citizens. They also protested the regime's violence, systemic injustice, and selective application of the law.

These examples fired Bishop Ncube's zeal to stand up to state authorities that work for their own interests and ignore the good of the people. An ugly incident occurred in Matabeleland province in 1983 and 1984 when more than 20, 000 civilians were killed by Mugabe's Fifth Brigade unit. The mass killings, whose repercussions are still being felt today, marked a dark chapter in the tribal relations of Zimbabweans. Catholic bishops at the time wrote a letter condemning the excesses of the Mugabe government in killing innocent civilians and proceeded to publish "Breaking the Silence," a report that documented the killings.

Could Mugabe be beyond prayer, I asked Bishop Ncube?

"Yes, since he is causing so much suffering," Ncube replies emphatically. "We pray that God may take him, because there is no way to change him, We do not want him to be removed violently but on the other hand we have a right to pray. The Israelites prayed to God to deliver them from Egypt--from Pharoah, who was an oppressor. And so we also ask that God may deliver us and take this man away, since he is even going to rig the ballot. He is a bad guy, and you cannot change anything legally. He has no respect for the law, no respect for human life; people can starve to death and he will not care. In my view, it is justified that we pray to God to take him."

Bishop Ncube says attempts at seeking an audience with Mugabe to resolve the country's crisis have been futile. Mugabe has accused Bishop Ncube of deviating from religious matters to dabble in politics.

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