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NEWS ANALYSIS

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) As an increasingly isolated Zimbabwe moves toward parliamentary elections at the end of the month, African church leaders are stepping up their criticism of the regime of President Robert Mugabe and urging southern African nations to strengthen their calls for democratic change in the country. For the most part, […]

c. 2005 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) As an increasingly isolated Zimbabwe moves toward parliamentary elections at the end of the month, African church leaders are stepping up their criticism of the regime of President Robert Mugabe and urging southern African nations to strengthen their calls for democratic change in the country.

For the most part, however, such calls are carefully nuanced to avoid incurring the wrath of Zimbabwe’s autocratic ruler, Robert Mugabe.

An exception has been retired Anglican archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu.

The most recent of the cautious calls for change came from Greek Orthodox African leader Theodoros II, patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa.

“Zimbabwe faces many problems, for instance hunger,” Theodoros told the Cape Times newspaper March 2, according to Ecumenical News International, the Geneva-based religious news agency. “But I see positive developments and the situation is getting better.”

But he said South Africa could help the situation by “putting more pressure” on Zimbabwe for democratic changes.

Theodoros’ call for more pressure on Mugabe, once a darling of the anti-colonial movement in Africa but now widely criticized for leading one of southern Africa’s most prosperous nations into economic crisis, came just a day after a prominent Roman Catholic prelate said many clergy in Zimbabwe have been bribed into silence about the human rights situation in that country.

Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, accused Mugabe of using “a strategy to buy certain churches and individual ministers and bishops.”

Ncube said priests and pastors had been bribed into silence by being offered farms confiscated from white farmers, ENI reported March 1.

Mugabe’s land policies _ in which once-prosperous farms owned by white farmers have been seized and turned over to blacks, especially Mugabe supporters _ have been among the most controversial developments in Zimbabwe since Mugabe won power in 1980 when the country, then known as Rhodesia, won independence from Britain. Mugabe turned 81 in February.

As the March 31 elections approach, Mugabe has cracked down on the news media and threatened nongovernmental organizations working in the country. Most recently, the government shut down the independent Weekly Times just two months after it began publication _ the fourth newspaper shut down in two years.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has named Zimbabwe one of the world’s remaining “outposts of tyranny.”

The United States has imposed “targeted” sanctions on the Zimbabwean leadership, including banning Mugabe and other leaders in the government and his ZANU-PF associates from traveling to the United States and freezing assets. It also has cut off all non-humanitarian aid to the country. The European Union has also imposed so-called “smart” sanctions aimed at the assets of Zimbabwe’s leaders.

The strong U.S.-Britain-Europe criticism of Mugabe has put the West at odds with Zimbabwe’s most powerful neighbor, South Africa. South Africa President Thabo Mbeki has called Rice’s labeling of Zimbabwe an “outpost of tyranny” an exaggeration.

And while he has criticized the handling of the land confiscation and redistribution program as “incorrect,” he has favored what he calls “quiet diplomacy” as a better means of bringing about change.

But Tutu _ Mbeki’s countryman and onetime ally in the fight against apartheid in South Africa _ has emerged as one of Mugabe’s sharpest critics.

Tutu was widely quoted last month as saying that Zimbabwe was making a mockery of attempts by African nations to improve their governance and defend democracy in the post-colonial era.

“We have a responsibility,” he told the Sunday Independent newspaper in South Africa. “People should see that we do really care about things like freedom, justice and freedom of association _ the basic freedoms for which we fought.

“We have to say, places like Zimbabwe make almost a mockery of our saying that we are committed to these things.”

(OPTIONAL TRIM FOLLOWS)

In reaction, Zimbabwean officials denounced Tutu as a “vassal” of imperialism and a “sellout bishop.”

Tutu, said Didymus Mutasa, was “an embittered little man who lost his soul to false gods” in the West such as President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“If he were to put his clerical mind on this and pray to the real God … he would know that the democracy we have in Zimbabwe is second to none as it was secured through precious blood” in the war that brought about the end of white-minority rule.

But on Thursday (March 4), democracy advocates in Zimbabwe also criticized Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy,” saying they believe the South African leader wants to give legitimacy to Mugabe’s harsh but stable regime, The Associated Press reported.

“He (Mbeki) wants to assure that Mugabe gets an electoral victory that is seen as legitimate in the eyes of the world,” Lovemore Madhuku, leader of the National Constitutional Assembly, a Zimbabwean civil society group, told the AP.

Ncube, the Roman Catholic archbishop, said that if there were “a free and fair election, ZANU-PF would get 30 percent or less of the vote.”

MO/PH END RNS

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