A crusader for human rights touches down in Perth.
By Robert Hiini
As Zimbabwe slipped further into chaos last week, Anglican Bishop and human rights laureate, the Rt Rev Dr Sebastian Bakare came to Perth to give first-hand knowledge of the harrowing experience of his fellow Zimbabweans.
The bishop, who is this year’s recipient of the Per Anger Human Rights Award, has been touring Australia since November 20 at the invitation of the Christian Democratic Party speaking principally at churches and schools throughout the nation.
Since what he refers to as the “sham” elections held in March and the subsequent collapse of power-sharing negotiations, the people of Zimbabwe have been hit with an outbreak of cholera that, according to the BBC, has killed at least 536 people since August.
“We thought this was going to come to an end with elections but elections in Zimbabwe are just a sheer performance,” the bishop said, speaking to SBS World News and The Record during his stint in Perth on December 4.
Bishop Bakare has been exhorting Australians to give practical assistance to the people of his homeland – people experiencing hyperinflation of over 200 million per cent.
“We need fresh water and we have no money, the recession has taken all of our money away,” the bishop said.
“Water has become a very costly commodity.
“People are selling it at a high price. Can you imagine the vicious cycle we’re in? Where people are suffering others are making plenty of money.
“We would ask Australians to give help where they can, being part of that common humanity.”
Apart from the political and economic crises, the bishop says that the country is experiencing crippling food shortages and an exodus of health care professionals.
He says that he has been disappointed by the international response so far but that he is also realistic about some of the challenges faced by governments and international aid agencies.
“We need the international community to come to our aid, especially now there has been a cholera outbreak. We need food, our children are not going to school, there’s no pure water.”
“The international community can do a lot but they face a snag: They cannot go into Zimbabwe without the government’s permission.”
He says he is not in favour of military intervention and that humanitarian assistance is the most pressing need.
When asked whether sanctions such as those imposed by the US and the European Union were to blame, Bishop Bakare was blunt in his assessment.
“Who is to blame for corruption? Who has destroyed our economy? A lot of things have happened and we have been irresponsible in using our resources.”
“I think it’s all very easy to point your finger at other people but that doesn’t help the situation,” the bishop said, referring to the illegitimate President Robert Mugabe’s attempts to deflect blame to foreign sources.
“We have not been able to produce, to sustain the economic infrastructure we inherited at independence. We were once upon a time able to feed the whole region in Southern Africa but all of that has gone.”
Bishop Bakare was retired when he was elected Bishop of Harare in February after his predecessor Nolbert Kunonga was deposed by the diocese’ governing province for supporting the ruling Zanu-PF regime.
He says that churches have been far from united in their response to the crises.
“The church has very much compromised in its position by not speaking out against evil.
“There are some people who have been co-opted while others don’t want to come out and that has made our voice as a church very weak.”
Looking forward to what he hopes will be a much brighter future, he says the Christian churches will have a special role to play in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe.
“I think the Church has a responsibility to make sure that reconciliation and justice are totally understood – not as cheap grace but by helping people to recognise that what they did to others was evil.”
Despite the immense suffering of his own people at the hands of their despots, the bishop’s faith in God remains intact.
“We believe that God will intervene in his own time. We wish it had been yesterday but we know he is involved in his own way.”