Last week, another Church voice was heard speaking about the very serious issues currently facing Zambian society.
This time it was not a pastoral letter from the Catholic bishops or a critical call from a Catholic priest. Rather it was a Pastoral Letter from the country's major Mother Body of Protestant Churches, the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ).
Because the Letter, entitled On the State of the Nation, is very important and because media coverage of it has been thin and at times quite biased, I thought it would be good this week to devote my column to its clear and strong message.
It is a message that cannot easily be dismissed by those who disagree with it, as it is "signed for and on behalf of CCZ Church leaders," and released by the CCZ General Secretary, Rev. Suzanne Matale.
What I immediately appreciated about the Letter is that it grounds its message - its content and its right and duty to speak out - on very solid theological grounds. In the opening paragraph, it expressed the importance of noting that "the Council's mandate is to be a prophetic voice with a transformative impact on church and society for the propagation of Christian values and human dignity. This mandate is motivated and inspired by the Word of God in seeking justice for all (Proverbs 31: 81-9)."
Such a theological foundation is explicitly repeated in the Letter's treatment of issues such as poverty - where it states that poverty "deprives the people of the God given ability of free will" - and extractive industries - where it reminds us that "the earth is the Lord's and all its fullness (Psalm 24:1)" and that the wealth under the Zambian soil "is given by God through His grand design to benefit all the Zambian people."
Why do I consider this statement of theological grounds important? Simply because it calls upon those who disagree with the Letter's analysis and recommendations to state their own theological grounds. I'm sorry to repeat this obvious point again, but some critics of the mainline churches' outspoken social messages posit extremely untenable theological and clearly invalid scriptural arguments that elected governments are somehow ordained (even anointed?) by God and should therefore never be criticised. Please, a bit more theological intelligence is needed in our public discourse!
The CCZ Pastoral Letter sadly notes a "departure from democratic principles to a non-tolerant culture." The objectives and aspirations that brought about dramatic change in the 1990s "have died down" and "only a few elite are the beneficiaries" of the current governance situation.
But you might ask, isn't that a bit exaggerated? Well, I would say that if that is your question, just take a walk through some peri-urban compounds and remote rural areas around our beloved Zambia. I've done that recently, and as a result I don't think the CCZ judgment is at all exaggerated.
As might be expected, the Letter looks at the constitution- making process found in the current National Constitutional Conference (NCC).
It expresses extreme dissatisfaction that the NCC has "continued to disregard the people's wishes as submitted to the Mung'omba CRC and has opted to approve provisions that seek to guarantee the continued grip of Government on power." Again, anyone who might doubt the truth of this CCZ statement simply needs to read the NCC debates and evaluate the recommendations.
As might be expected, the Letter also does not let pass without rightful condemnation the proposal made to the Cabinet by the Vice-President to pay ministers and Lusaka-based MPs the added bonus of 5 billion Kwacha, lest they be "demotivated" in their public service!
Calling corruption "the greatest enemy to the country's development," the CCZ leaders state that although there is much talk of "zero tolerance to corruption" this evil "remains rampant especially in Government institutions where colossal sums of money continue to be pocketed by a few individuals."
Anyone who might doubt that assertion should simply read the most recent report of the Auditor General - read and weep! And then question: why so few dismissals and arrests?
Certainly the fast approaching 2011 tripartite elections occupies a central place in the Pastoral Letter. Besides the usual call for a "free, fair and transparent manner" for the elections, the Letter adds a strong call for church members to "turn up in large numbers to register voters in the voter registration exercise which starts in June 2010." I was sorry that there was not also a call for more effective action for securing the basic citizen's Registration Card that is necessary for becoming engaged with the voter registration process.
In speaking of the judicial system, the Letter repeats the adage, "Justice delayed is justice denied" and notes that our current system is in need of comprehensive review if the accused are not to continue to be subjected to the injustice of "unrealistically long periods of detention awaiting trial."
And this long detention occurs in a prison system where "the rich and the powerful appear to be above the law and go scot-free while the poor languish…." Simply read recent reports from the Government's own Human Rights Commission to verify that critique!
While not adding anything new to the ongoing debates about poverty in Zambia and the gross inequality in access to resources such as land and opportunities to invest, the Pastoral Letter rightly emphasises the need for Government economic policies to be more concerned about the welfare of all our citizens. "Positive economic growth is meaningless if the lives of the majority of the citizenry are not positively affected."
Furthermore, "poor corporate social responsibility of the mines" has meant such unacceptable consequences as lack of serious investment in social support (e.g., roads, health), deplorable working conditions for indigenous employees, hazardous environmental degradation and indiscriminate displacement of people. Is that too sweeping a judgment? I was on the Copperbelt last week and heard similar complaints.
I can only pray that members of the several large delegations going to China this week to promote business exchange will read this Pastoral Letter!
The CCZ Church Leaders conclude their truly prophetic letter with an expression of "the Zambia we want" guided by a Constitution "which speaks of the aspirations of the Zambian People and not only a few individuals." This would be a Zambia of freedom and peace, integrity and dignity, free of corruption and promoting justice. It would be "a Zambia we all stand proud and free to call our home."
I believe we can all thank the CCZ Church Leaders for their recent significant contribution to that "Zambia We Want." And I pray that among Government officials, church members and ordinary citizens, the Letter stirs the reflection, debate and action it certainly deserves! -
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