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A Catholic priest is mediating Mugabe’s departure

In this Dec. 17, 2016, file photo, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe addresses people at an event before the closure of his party's 16th Annual People's Conference in Masvingo, south of the capital, Harare. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, File)

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — No one yet knows how the 37-year reign of President Robert Mugabe will end, but many are hoping a Jesuit priest will lead the way to a peaceful transition of power in Zimbabwe.

The Rev. Fidelis Mukonori on Wednesday (Nov. 15) began to mediate between Mugabe and the military shortly after the country’s generals put the 93-year-old authoritarian leader under house arrest.

Mukonori, 70, the Mugabe family’s longtime spiritual adviser, is trying to negotiate a deal that would transition Mugabe out of power or send him into comfortable exile, perhaps in neighboring South Africa.

The priest first met Mugabe, a Catholic in an overwhelmingly Protestant country, in 1974 at a Jesuit social service agency outside the nation’s capital, Harare, where Mugabe’s sister worked.

The priest has served as the first family’s chaplain for all Mugabe’s years in office, which have been marked by political and economic turmoil. 

Mugabe to many is still the hero of a revolution that overthrew white majority rule. But he is also widely blamed for the nation’s economic tumult and reviled by those who resent the strong and sometimes violent arm he has used to retain power.

Mukonori, though, has tried to portray Mugabe in a more sympathetic, religious light.

Many people do not know this side of Mugabe, the priest in 2015 told The Herald, a national newspaper in Zimbabwe.

“I think very few people have the time to understand him and how spiritual he is,” Mukonori said.

“Robert Mugabe moved in the battlefield with the rosary in his pocket. Robert Mugabe would be saying his rosary sitting in the car, Robert would say his rosary flying on the plane.”

Mugabe’s mother had given him the rosary when he was going to war, telling him that he had no other weapon to offer him protection, according to the priest.

“Pray your rosary,” the priest said Mugabe’s mother told him.

Mugabe was born at a Catholic mission station and attended a Jesuit school in Zimbabwe, which was then known as Southern Rhodesia.

Even before 1980, when the current nation of Zimbabwe was founded and Mugabe became its first prime minister — and then president — Mukonori has been by his side.

The priest, who hold a master’s of theology from Santa Clara University’s Jesuit School of Theology in California, aided in the birth of Zimbabwe as its founding was negotiated in London, with the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement.

More recently, Mukonori has  served on a commission drafting the country’s new constitution.

This week, the generals said they seized power to end corruption in the country, which was plunged into political turmoil earlier this month after Mugabe fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa had been in a power struggle with Mugabe’s wife, Grace, to succeed her husband.

Mugabe is apparently insisting that he be allowed to serve his full term as president. General elections are set for July 2018.

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Fredrick Nzwili

19 Comments

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  • I’m sure a Google search would provide some data, but I’m curious as to the human rights record of this putatively “spiritual” Robert Mugabe. While I can plainly applaud his efforts to reframe political rule in Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia at the time) to favor the indigenous inhabitants, and I recognize that after his assumption of power he softened the state’s stance towards the remaining white farmers/planters who remained despite earlier less inclusive rhetoric, his President for Life Schtick has always been a troublesome feature to his rule/administration.

  • NASCAR car hauler skidded out of control and crashed into a Men’s Warehouse store. The coat was pulled from the wreckage.

  • Mugabe actually was initially in support of post-independence racial reconciliation. But as time went on, the slow pace of reforms plus the corrupting influence of power turned Mugabe, who had been a hero of those opposed to oppressive white minority rule, into just another brutal dictator. By 2000 he had begun to support violent seizures of white-owned land. His overall human rights record is atrocious.

  • Thank you for the link. The story does not surprise me at all, in fact I expect to see more and more of these events. The Enemy’s especial hatred is directed towards the Church, but he will target other victims as well…he is indiscriminate in his hatred of humanity. In fact, he must be quite torn in his desires. To kill Christians because he hates the Lord simply sends them to be with their Savior…which must madden him. To kill the lost only temporarily satisfies his desire to have all humanity join him in his eternal damnation. This, in turn, only feeds his purpose and fuels his rage.

  • Your assessment tracks largely with my own past reading of the man. Your contribution helps, because sadly, my once reasonably sharp mind has started to falter just slightly with late middle age.

  • I feel my mind faltering as well. Perhaps being a little younger, I only remember Mugabe as a brutal dictator. Had to look online to make sure.

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