The Pope’s representative in Zimbabwe has expressed solidarity with a Catholic archbishop after he was harshly criticized by a government official.
Archbishop Paolo Rudelli, the Apostolic Nuncio to Zimbabwe, visited Archbishop Robert Ndlovu Aug. 16, the day after the country’s Minister of Information, Monica Mutsvangwa, launched a blistering personal attack on Ndlovu.
In a statement read out on national television, Mutsvangwa singled out Ndlovu, the Archbishop of Harare and president of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference, as she rejected the bishops’ recent pastoral letter lamenting an “unprecedented” crackdown on dissent.
Describing Ndlovu as an “errant and evil bishop,” Mutsvangwa accused the archbishop of seeking to heighten ethnic divisions.
She compared Ndlovu, a member of Zimbabwe’s minority Ndembele ethnic group, to clergy who incited genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
“With nefarious cynicism to history, Archbishop Robert Christopher Ndlovu is inching to lead the Zimbabwe Catholic congregation into the darkest dungeons of Rwanda-type genocide,” Mutsvangwa claimed.
The bishops issued the pastoral letter Aug. 14 after security services suppressed anti-government protests in the capital, Harare. The protesters had taken to the streets to demand an end to corruption and mismanagement, while the hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter trended on social media.
Inflation is running at more than 700% in the landlocked southern Africa country, which has a population of 14.4 million. The nation is also suffering from mass unemployment and shortages of food and medicine, as well as the coronavirus pandemic.
In their pastoral letter, the bishops said that the heavy-handed response to the protests would deepen the crisis. They also highlighted “unresolved past hurts,” such as Gukurahundi, a series of massacres of the Ndebele people by the Zimbabwe National Army in the 1980s.
The bishops wrote: “The voices of various governments, the European Union, the African Union and the UN on the desperate situation in Zimbabwe not only confirmed the seriousness of human rights breaches by government agents but the need to rally behind #Zimbabweanlivesmatter.”
They added: “Fear runs down the spine of many of our people today. The crackdown on dissent is unprecedented. Is this the Zimbabwe we want?”
In 2017, Robert Mugabe was forced to step down as president of Zimbabwe after 37 years in power. He was succeeded by Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had served as Mugabe’s vice president.
Mnangagwa has blamed the current crisis on opposition politicians, accusing them of seeking to destabilize the country with foreign help.
The organization Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights criticized the government’s response to the pastoral letter. In an Aug. 16 press statement, the group said that the “vilification” of the bishops “borders on outright fanning of hate speech.”
Fadzayi Mahere, national spokesperson of the MDC Alliance opposition party, tweeted Aug. 17 that the comments about Ndlovu and his fellow Catholic bishops marked “a disgusting new low for the regime.”