Nicolas Stebbing challenges us to be part of lasting change in Zimbabwe

Miracles do happen! Prayers are answered! For years the situation in Zimbabwe has looked unchangeable: Mugabe would be in power till he died; things could only get worse; the economy would steadily decline. Then suddenly, in a week, change came. Mugabe was gone. His dreadful wife was gone. There was practically no violence. It was almost unbelievable. How did it happen?

I think we Christians need to insist very firmly that our prayers made it happen, which is just a way of saying that God made it happen. For years and years we have prayed for peaceful change, and nothing seemed to change until the moment was right. Then Grace Mugabe overstepped herself. The military came in with a well-made plan. The people were allowed to show what they really felt and, within days, we had a new president and a new government. The miracle is not just that it happened, but that it happened so peacefully. That is the clearest proof that God was there.

It is lovely to see also that the years of orchestrated hatred have had so little effect. On that great day when thousands came out on the streets the handful of white people who joined them were welcomed with open arms. People vied to have photos taken with white people. Men and women hugged their white brothers and sisters and said ‘we want you to stay.’ This is not a return to white rule or out-dated colonialism. It is simply that we are all Zimbabweans. The government’s relentless attempts to blame all evils on ‘the whites’ have failed.

So what do we have instead? The new government is, of course, part of the old. Emmerson Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s deputy. He has blood on his hands and is in part responsible for the decades of violence against the government’s opponents. We have no illusions about him, or the cabinet he has appointed. He is not nicknamed ‘Crocodile’ for nothing. Yet Zimbabweans are quietly optimistic that things will go well. Mnangagwa is not another Mugabe because he does not have Mugabe’s charisma, and nor is he the one who led the country to independence. He will be judged on his performance. He also understands economics, which Mugabe didn’t. He will be better guided by the business community who think well of him. He knows the country needs investment and has already removed some bad laws to enable this. He has to give Zimbabwe free and fair elections or Africa and the world will reject him.

Not everything is good. There has been some reform of the Electoral Commission but not nearly enough. Farmers are being allowed back onto the land but in very small numbers and to very small farms. That will help the economy, but there is far too much land still in the possession of government ministers and supporters who do nothing with it. The country has not yet returned to the proper rule of law. The government is still essentially unconstitutional. In other words, don’t stop praying yet. This revolution has started well, and quiet slow revolutions are always the best. The tragic Arab Spring shows us that. This revolution has a long way to go before it is secure.

Zimbabweans know this. We are used to troubles. We live in the present and get ready to duck if the bullets start flying. So the charity I help to run, Tariro, is still one of the essential pieces working keep Zimbabwe together and to build a future. There are lot of such charities doing great work under the radar. There is also the amazing work of the churches without whom education, hospitals and social care would long since have collapsed. The church has been the major opposition party for the past 20 years. The fact the recent revolution came so peacefully shows how effective it has been.

The Anglican church is flourishing with big, enthusiastic congregations, excellent schools and much else that would make people here green with envy. Yet there are problems. All of southern Africa (i.e. south of Kenya) was evangelized by the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (as it was then called). It is broadly catholic in its rituals and self-understanding. Yet for decades now Anglo-Catholics in England have been wrapped up in their own troubles and seem to have forgotten the world outside, except maybe the little bit of it around Rome. Catholic teaching has become very thin. Congregations in Zimbabwe are big and vibrant but they know very little about the church and its sacraments. Such teaching as they get comes from evangelical or pentecostal sources. Would it not be good to try and help them rediscover the riches of the faith they were once taught?

It would bring great benefit to the catholic world here to undertake this mission: it would give us a new sense of belonging to worldwide catholicism, not just an English corner of it, and it would be greatly appreciated in Zimbabwe and help equip the church there for the new Zimbabwe that is growing out of this revolution. It would not be very expensive or time consuming, and it would also be enormous fun—my contacts out there would see to that! In every kind of mission activity, those who give benefit at least as much as those who receive.

I made this challenge a couple of years ago and got no response. Has the time for a response now come? Would you like to give it a try?

Fr Nicolas Stebbing CR is a priest of the Community of the Holy Resurrection in Mirfield and a trustee of Tariro. For more information about the charity please visit their website