A House on Fire Needs All Hands

A House on Fire Needs All Hands

By Fr Oskar Wermter SJ

Bishops do not just sit in offices or boardrooms. They are shepherds and walk with their flocks. Archbishop Ndlovu of Harare has been visiting  this year 42 centres in his diocese which reaches from Birchenough Bridge to Bindura and from Nyamapanda to Sanyati.

Bishops do not just preach, they also listen to what the people have to say. Much of it is heard-rending: no food, no rain; land without implements, fertilizer or seed; “politicized food”, intimidation and  threats.

From what they have seen and heard, the bishops have come to the conclusion that “the elections have left Zimbabweans more polarized than they were before and during the years of the Inclusive Government”.

The crisis is so serious that “politics as normal” in their view just will not do. We all see that too much energy goes into political infighting, too little into paying attention to the state of emergency into which we are sinking  more deeply every day;  too much time is spent on playing the blaming game,  too little time goes into drastic action to save the sinking ship.

“Zimbabweans, and that includes the politicians and political parties among us, must transcend their differences and work together for the common good of our country” (Restoration and Peace in Zimbabwe, Christmas letter, ZCBC).  When the house is on fire quarrelling neighbours  join together and douse the flames, handing buckets of water from one to the other. – After an accident, do you ask the ambulance men  what party cards they carry or in which church they pray?  As an accident  victim, do you want to die rather than to be rescued by a “dissident”?

In  one aspect all political parties and movements must be united and have a common aim and objective: promoting the “common good” and giving a decent life to all. A party that has as its sole aim the annihilation of the enemy and  grabbing all national assets for itself, is not a political party at all, it is a criminal gang.

Recent experience has shown, maintain the bishops, “that the winner-take-all political  arrangement will not benefit Zimbabwe and her people at this stage of our political development. Neither the Government, the Opposition nor any one of us alone can achieve the restoration that our country and people so sorely need.”

Whether or not indigenization is a good idea is not the point. That is a long-term issue.  Why  bother now about what sort of house we may want in the future? If we do not put out the fire now there won’t be a house to live in.

But if indigenization at this moment would  deprive workers of  jobs and income and make their families starve then it must be shelved. Human life is more important than political ideology and personal pride.

Even in middle-class suburbs women and girls are seen with buckets looking for water, just as in drought-stricken villages. Water is life, and without it we get sick and die. What comes first  – party or country?

Political faction-fighting and intrigues are luxuries we cannot effort as the flames of the burning house engulf us. We need statesmen, not politicians; peacemakers, not fanatics fighting yesterday’s wars.

Peacemakers “engage in economic activity for the sake of the common good and they experience this commitment as something transcending self-interest, for the benefit of present and future generations. Thus they work not only for themselves, but also to ensure for others a future and a dignified employment” (ZCBC quoting Benedict XVI).

We cannot leave it to ambitious, but incompetent politicians to rescue Zimbabwe from  shrinking, cracking up and imploding. We need a new “economic model that is inclusive, that draws from the abundant pool of expertise that we are blessed with among our people and that transcends political and other boundaries”.

Church leaders are daily confronted with the “cries of the poor”. But church charity cannot cope. Feeding schemes do not stop endemic hunger and famine. Something far more radical has to be done. The country has to be turned around altogether. It has to start producing again.

Foreign  investors are welcome, but capital alone does not do the trick. The most capable of Zimbabweans must be given the freedom to use their talents and managerial skills and employ  once more the country’s idle workforce at workbenches and in laboratories, in the fields and  in processing plants, in workshops and  on building sites.

Race and class  do not really matter if life itself is at stake. ‘Jobs for brothers and cousins’ will not restart the broken down engine. We must see to it that “the best qualified experts be invited to serve on these task teams irrespective of their political, religious or any other persuasion and that they remain apolitical/non-partisan”.

The bishops conclude their cry for radical reform of the economy by quoting their brother Francis, Bishop of Rome, who is asking for “dialogue, listening, patience, respect for others, sincerity and also willingness to rethink one’s own opinion”.

The time for party rivalry is over. We either keep fighting and perish, or we strive for the survival of all and live, excluding no one.








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