Breaking the Unjust Fetters
- Each Lenten season we listen again to the powerful words of God from the book of the prophet Isaiah: “Is this the sort of fasting that pleases me? A day when a person inflicts pain on himself, hanging his head like a reed, spreading out sackcloth and putting ashes on oneself. Is this what you call fasting acceptable to God? This is the fasting that pleases me: to break the unjust fetters, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to set prisoners free and to break all yokes. It is to share your food with the hungry, sheltering the homeless poor and clothing the naked. Then your light will blaze like the dawn and your wound will quickly heal.” (Isaiah 58:5-8).
- For 40 days we are invited to prayerfully ponder on our lives, our fasting and our works of mercy. How is this Lenten season going to be different from all the others? Where fasting is not accompanied by the feeding of the hungry, the housing of the homeless, the clothing of the naked, and the freeing of those unjustly imprisoned it ceases to be Christian. Lent can easily become an exercise in losing weight and a demonstration of meanness, eating nothing yet at the same time giving nothing away. Looking at our lives we ask: what ought I to do, what ought I to have and what I ought I to be? In other words, what are my rights, my duties and my virtues? The over emphasis of rights over duties and virtues has been the downfall of our society. Many today …are concerned mainly with their rights, and they often have great difficulty in taking responsibility for their own and other people’s integral development. Hence it is important to call for a renewed reflection on how rights presuppose duties, if they are not to become a mere licence.
- The insistence by the Isaiah text on breaking the unjust fetters, undoing the thongs of yoke, setting prisoners free must compel us, this Lent, to reflect on our past, our present and our future. Where have we been? Where are we? Where do we want to go as individuals and as a society? In our pastoral letter Opening a New Door in 2018 we called the nation to greater selfless service of others, responsibility for our country, accountability, truthfulness and respect for each other. These are the Lenten values which in this letter we wish to reaffirm as we head towards our General Elections. A General Election is a sacred moment of synodality and communal discernment. Because synodality is about journeying together, an important watershed moment in the life of a people, a General Election, should never be preceded by violence. Because it is a time of communal discernment about the kind of leadership we want, and where we wish to go as a nation, a General Election, should never be in a context of intimidation and incarceration. We are going towards the General Elections with some people incarcerated for expressing their views.
- As we go for elections it is imperative that there is clarity about what we want from these elections, hence the need for the 40 days of fasting and prayer. If important elections such as these become nothing but a power game, seeking to attain or retain power and nothing else to offer beyond this, then as a nation, we are lost and we are doomed.
- Looking at where we are, we see that our people are witnesses and worse, victims of abject poverty and destitution. We live with these and there doesn’t seem to be an exodus, a way out of this desperation, where people are without work, and those with work are paid never enough to feed themselves and look after their families. We see a growing population on the streets living on begging. We see a very high percentage of young people of school going age not going to school and a good number of them now being employed, by untouchable drug lords, to sell drugs and killing themselves and many others in the process. We also see that
our people are being used as ponies in the power game. Clearly they are victims of political violence fanned by the reckless utterances of the political leadership in its quest for power. How many more people have to be maimed and how many have to be killed before we can put a stop to all this? Surely we can allow compassion for each other to breathe. We can tolerate political differences and we can learn from each other what to add to our own political vision and how to market it without the shedding of blood. Violence should never be a tool employed in politics. As Pope Francis reminded us, “The instrument of politics is closeness, it is about confronting problems, understanding them….it is about something we have forgotten how to do: persuasion.”
- We go to this important General Election to elect a leader that has a clear plan about how to put families first by creating good employment so as to lower the increased number of our poor people living in desperate situations of outright deprivation. This election must bring to the highest office a leader who cares about the health of the excluded poor both young and old. Pope Benedict XVI, 14 years ago, called political leaders to create economies capable of including all people where “all will be able to give and receive, without one group making progress at the expense of the other.” No doubt the principal goal of the war of liberation was not only political emancipation but economic inclusivity, so as to ensure bread on every table and equal opportunities for all. The past attempts by our government building schools and universities, clinics and hospitals, and providing opportunities for the excluded in the public and private sector cannot go unacknowledged. We need to build on these successes and this is where we are failing.
- The altruistic approach that gave us the aforementioned successes seemingly has been aborted and replaced by a raw form of individualism seeking nothing but self-aggrandizement through corruption. What is most worrisome is that such rampart corruption by known players is not being nipped in the bud by the responsible offices but is seemingly supported by those in power by their silence and inaction. The Auditor General’s report of 2021 makes for painful reading as it confirms total disregard for structures of accountability. She writes that some ministries have not made their documents available for audit despite the fact that this is a requirement. Where there is no transparency and no accountability, we can conclude that there is corruption at a large scale. The chairperson of the Anti-Corruption Commission admitted in 2019 that the commission could do very little because the courts were corrupt. When it comes to corruption, Pope Francis’ observation is apt. In 2015, the Holy Father speaking about corruption had this to say, Corruption is something which creeps in. It’s like sugar: it’s sweet. We like it, it goes down easily. And then? We get sick… With all that easy sugar we end up as diabetics, and our country becomes diabetic! Whenever we take a bribe, or pocket a kickback, we destroy our heart, we destroy our personality, we destroy our country … if you do not want corruption in your life, in your country, then start (opposing it) now! Corruption is not the way to life. It is a path which leads to death.
- In a summer season like this one with such generous amounts of rain in the majority of provinces, as we have witnessed, the country is filled with signs of hope and manifestations of new life as crops grow, birds hatch, and animals produce new young. Such newness in the wild, in our fields and in our homes gives us added responsibility to make sure that the future is built on the responsible use of our resources today. We are a country with so many resources yet the question on everyone’s lips is: Where are these resources going? One wonders whether with all the destruction done to the environment by the mining companies, there will be an environment to talk about in a few years to come!
- This lent must give us time to think about the sort of leadership we want. Can we choose from the candidates who will present themselves, people who will lead our country on the path of economic prosperity, justice and freedom for which our brothers and sisters gave their lives in the war of liberation? Can we choose those candidates who will be accountable to the people. Many countries in Africa have witnessed the shrinking of the democratic space through the increased use of force to silence dissenting voices. As Victor Hugo once said “An invasion of armies can be resisted; an invasion of ideas cannot be resisted.” ‘Force can never erase the longing in the people’s hearts for freedom and accountability. Governments that ignore this may last for a while, propped up as they are by armies, but in the long run they will not succeed.’
- The use of force has a long history in Zimbabwe dating back to the colonial times. While the 1970s were the most painful example of the use of force to try and destroy the aspirations of the black majority in our own times we continue to witness the use of force to silence dissent. We are witnesses, in our own times, of this abuse of power. What can we do to make this election different, before, during and after? To answer this question, the holy season of Lent that calls us to repentance can point us to an answer. There is no repentance that does not touch the core of our being. Whatever good we desire for our country must begin with us as individuals. “Authentic social changes are effective and lasting only to the extent that they are based on resolute changes in personal conduct.
- In this Lenten season let us pray to Christ the Prince of peace, that he gives us true peace. As we do so let us commit ourselves to the building of peace and fast from the evils of violence. We note that, “The evils of violence whether delivered through word, system, institution or deed cannot lead to a truly better world. War and violence impose an unjust peace.”
Wishing you a blessed Lenten season as in the spirit of Lent we pray:
God our Father,
You know how often we try to go our own selfish ways,
Do not let us live and die for ourselves alone or close our hearts to others.
Help us to see ourselves and life as gifts from you.
Help us to build an inclusive society where each one’s needs are met.
Make us receptive of your word and life
And help us grow in the mind of Christ our Lord. Amen.
- + Rt. Rev. Bishop Paul Horan, O. Carm. Bishop of Mutare, ZCBC President.
- + Rt. Rev. Bishop Raymond Mupandasekwa, C.Ss.R. Bishop of Chinhoyi, Vice President.
- + Rt. Rev. Bishop Rudolph Nyandoro, Bishop of Gweru and Administrator of Gokwe Diocese, ZCBC Secretary.
- + Mt Rev. Archbishop Robert C. Ndlovu, Archbishop of Harare and Administrator of Masvingo Diocese.
- + Mt. Rev. Archbishop Alex Thomas, Archbishop of Bulawayo.
- + Rt. Rev, Bishop Raphael M.M. Ncube, Bishop of Hwange.