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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I asked Ncube about the president's allegation.

"It is not true," he replies. "When the Catholic bishops were challenging Ian Smith, nationalists like Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo were very happy that the bishops were challenging on social injustice. Smith was saying exactly what Mugabe is saying: you should leave politics only to us and get on with what is religious. But we cannot divorce religion from politics; the church should not get into party politics and take sides, but politics [also] deals with bread-and-butter issues, prices, food, a roof over the people's heads, the future for their children, the quality of education, salaries that people can live on. These are the day-to-day issues with which politics deals, so [Mugabe] is completely off course, he has lost direction."

Do you hate him?

"I am angry about the evil things he is doing to destroy the young people," says Ncube. "I do not hate him personally, but I hate his ways. This gross oppression, which has caused 3.4 million Zimbabweans to leave the country, 80-percent unemployment, 400-500 percent inflation is affecting everybody and all because of his careless policies of raiding the land so as to keep himself in power. Otherwise on a personal level he can be quite a nice man; we were in his house when we went to visit as a delegation of four bishops."

Bishop Ncube believes that representatives of other religions in Zimbabwe have not spoken strongly against the regime's social injustice out of fear. People who speak out are hounded; their telephones are tapped and state security trails their movements. Prominent opponents of the regime are subjected to a campaign of lies and demonization in the state-controlled media, as has been the case with Bishop Ncube himself. "As a result, many people are afraid to speak up. They do not want to be harassed and followed by state intelligence agents by car.They have written me threatening letters. They went over to [see] my mother, who is presently 89 years old and were pushing her around to make me feel small. In view of such things, people are afraid to fall out with this government because it has such a nasty agenda."

Bishop Ncube says he refuses to be afraid, because Zimbabwe is his home and he bore the brunt of the war of liberation, whose spoils are now monopolized by Mugabe and his cronies at the expense of the majority of Zimbabweans. Zimbabweans bravely fought colonial oppression, he explains, but intimidation by the black-majority government is now the country's principle problem and has contributed to an atmosphere of fear that breeds passivity. And some Zimbabweans simply cannot bring themselves to oppose the only leader they have know for the past 25 years. Bishop Ncube laments the lack of leadership in Zimbabwe, implying that his people need a modern-day Moses to lead them out of political bondage.

His office, nestled at the St. Mary's Cathedral in the heart of Bulawayo, is filled with pictures of men and women who have left humanity the legacy of love, faith, devotion, and determination. South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose book "No Future Without Forgiveness" touched Ncube deeply, is one of a host of spiritual and civic leaders who have inspired him and strengthened his faith. Oscar Romero, a Latin American bishop whose stand for human rights led to his murder, inspired Ncube, as did Janani Lume, a crusading Anglican bishop of Uganda who was killed by the late dictator Idi Amin. Ncube mentions Pope John Paul II's inspiring stand for human rights against communism. Those on the civil front who have inspired Ncube include South Africa's Nelson Mandela, American civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Julius Nyerere, the revered political conscience of Tanzania. While St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine, Theresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross count among those who have inspired him in faith.

On the question of the widespread anticipation that the successor to the late pope John Paul II would be from Africa, Bishop Ncube says Pope Benedict XVI was an obvious choice. He says there is no hurry for an African pope.

"The African church is the fastest growing, and [the church] in Latin America and Asia are also coming up. In a matter of years, we will have an African pope, but there was no really outstanding character, so it should not be just mere affirmative action but choosing someone who really stands for his faith."

Despite his enormous dedication to the fight for justice and the impact he has made on his society, Bishop Ncube refuses to be compared to Desmond Tutu as the conscience of the nation. "Desmond Tutu is really a giant in so many ways. Of course, he had a lot of support internationally, and the churches [in South Africa] are united. Unfortunately, in Zimbabwe, it is very difficult. Mugabe has divided the churches, telling some to support him. But I think Tutu is a giant; really, I cannot compare to him. We do not look to imitate people but are looking at our own situation to fight for justice in Zimbabwe."

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