THE Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa (FOCCISA), a grouping of Christian councils from 12 Sad countries, have made a clarion call to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces over the need for the military to be impartial and desist from supporting Zanu PF’s stranglehold on power in next week’s elections.
FOCCISA made the call in its final pre-election statement released on Thursday. Put together to strive for peace in the Southern African Development Community, FOCCISA is a body that consists of Botswana Council of Churches; Christian Council of Lesotho; Christian Council of Mozambique; Christian Council of Tanzania and Council of Christian Churches in Angola.
It also encompasses the Council of Churches in Namibia; Council of Churches in Zambia; Council of Swaziland Churches; Malawi Council of Churches; National Council of Churches of Kenya; South African Council of Churches and Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC).
In its strongly worded statement, FOCCISA said the country’s military should not front the interests of a single party.
“The defence forces should remain impartial and not be seen to side with one political party over another. They should at all times protect and uphold the rule of law and abide by the election code of conduct,” reads the statement.
On 1 August 2018, the military was deployed in the streets of Harare to put down a demonstration of opposition supporters protesting a delay in the announcement of presidential election results.
Using brute force, soldiers from the Presidential Guard killed six civilians and left dozens more with gunshot wounds. In January 2019, the military was again deployed in Harare to quell a fuel price hike protest and again killed 17 more innocent civilians fleeing its gunfire.
Many others were injured. FOCCISA also flagged the violence that saw the death of two opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) party supporters Mboneni Ncube in Kwekwe ahead of last year’s by-elections and Tinashe Chitsunga on 3 August this year in Harare’s Glen View suburb.
The body of Sadc churches rallied the police to promote civilian authority and ensure the security of all citizens, including dissenters.
“We are saddened by reports of the intimidation of citizens, the loss of innocent lives, and the destruction of property during the election campaigns especially unleashed against the opposition party gatherings. Against this background, we encourage the security forces to observe all due diligence as they carry out their duties before, during and after elections,” reads the statement.
“We acknowledge the importance of the general elections, and recognise the fact that elections are a fundamental part of a functioning democracy in Zimbabwe as is for any part of the world.
“We note with concern some reports of media attacks during the course of the election, and we urge the government, security forces, political actors, and all citizens to respect the media’s critical role by refraining from any damaging acts against them and ensuring accountability for such acts when they do occur.
“The media plays a pivotal role in ensuring free and fair elections. In the forthcoming elections, we call on the media to maintain a high level professionalism, accuracy and impartiality in their coverage. The media must promote a true reflection of the elections,” said FOCCISA.
The body of churches also encouraged Zimbabwean people, especially the large numbers of youth who are relatively new to the political processes, to demonstrate their strong commitment to their country’s democracy.
“Riding on the vision of the African Union (AU), we also wish to urge the AU, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other line organs who will be observers of the elections, to ensure an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.
“On election day, our encouragement to all Zimbabweans is that nothing – whether religion, ethnicity, or region – should stop them from exercising their fundamental freedom and rights to vote and be counted through the ballot.
“FOCCISA stands with all Zimbabweans as they chart the way forward towards a more prosperous, secure and democratic future for Zimbabwe and African at large,” reads the statement.
Other religious groups have already called for free and fair elections that are not marred by malpractises.
These include the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC) which has on numerous occasions engaged government and met President Emmerson Mnangagwa to discuss with him the country’s multi-layered socio-economic and political crisis.