Top cleric decries dearth of democracy

MUTARE - The heightening tensions in Zimbabwe over the disputed July 30 elections have betrayed Zanu PF and the MDC Alliance’s lack of appreciation of democracy, a prominent cleric has said.

Retired Anglican bishop Sebastian Bakare told the Daily News yesterday that the protagonists in the evolving political impasse have a duty to save the country from plunging into unnecessary conflict.

“We are failing to understand the principles of peace. If Mnangagwa won, there is no need to retaliate even to arrest. If the MDC lost, that’s democracy! But if they are questioning the whole process, then it’s something they need to sit down and say what went wrong,” he said.

“But once you begin to chase each other, arrest each other, intimidate each other, we begin to wonder,” he added.

Bakare opined that the wrangling parties were applying the wrong prescription to resolving their differences.

While the man of cloth doubts if the MDC Alliance is able to substantiate its claims of rigging on the part of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), he firmly believes that Zanu PF must get on with its work and ignore the rumpus from critics if the ruling party is sure of its electoral win.

He said the ugly incidents of violence that inflamed tensions in Harare last week left him in no doubt as to the absence of democracy in Zimbabwe.

“I’m not very sure myself if what is happening now gives confidence that the country’s democracy is developing. Is it there at all in Zimbabwe? Maybe the answer is — not yet!

“We have not yet understood what democracy is all about…What is happening here is a total misunderstanding of what democracy is all about, both sides. But also you don’t have to force democracy on people without explaining what it is (all about),” he said.

Bakare joins the growing band of church leaders who are beginning to speak out on the political crisis rattling the former British colony.

Following former president Robert Mugabe’s ouster last year, the new administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa had promised to set the country on a firm path to democracy, starting with the conduct of free, fair and credible elections.

That promise seems to have failed its first real test in the wake of a contested poll outcome.

Bakara told the Daily News yesterday that any dispute can be resolved through dialogue as opposed to strong-arm tactics.

“(The) MDC might say things were done wrong and Zanu might say, okay, we won, but when some kind of disagreement arises — you sit down and talk, not this idea of witch-hunting, running away, and arresting! What for? It doesn’t make any sense to us ordinary people.

“If I’m right, I don’t have to argue with you. I’m right and I’m right! I don’t have to force you to accept that I’m right,” he said.

Turning to the judiciary, Bakare said the justice delivery system had legacy issues which needed to be dealt with so that it can be viewed as a neutral arbiter.

This follows concerns by the opposition that they may not be able to be given a fair hearing in the courts.

The international community has also been calling on the courts to be impartial in presiding over poll disputes.

Between 2007/08, Bakare was at the centre of a power struggle with Nolbert Kunonga over the leadership of the Harare Diocese after the former Bishop of Harare was stripped of his episcopacy in January 2008.

The dispute dragged in the courts after Kunonga aligned himself with the Marxist regime of Mugabe.

“Do we have a court that is 100 percent impartial? I’m saying it because I know it when I was fighting with Kunonga… We feel like we already know the decision and whether or not they are going to listen to both arguments for and against those who are questioning the credibility of the election,” said Bakare.

“We, the people, feel that the courts in Zimbabwe are not totally independent. This has been like this for the past 38 years; it can’t change overnight.”