There is a “growing need” for the church in Zimbabwe “to speak and be heard” and give leadership to the people of the southern African nation, according to a new report from two international ecumenical bodies. 

The report, written by a delegation from the World Council of Churches and the All Africa Conference of Churcheswho spent a week in Zimbabwe to observe the 29th March elections - a process which was hampered by government limitations placed upon them, concludes that the 2008 elections were “far from being fair and free”.

“The scenario creates a dangerous vacuum that could lead to total disintegration of the nation as well as threaten the unity of the church.”

- World Council of Churches/All Africa Conference of Churches report.

The report says that although the 29th March was generally characterised by a "peaceful atmosphere" on the day itself, “violence, intimidation and outright confrontation” were all employed in the run-up to the election, food was used as  a "political tool" and media coverage was skewed in favor of the ruling party. 

Given the political situation and the growing economic crisis - inflation is now above 200,000 per cent, the report says the church in Zimbabwe has now to seriously consider the best approach to the current impasse in the country, particularly “how to handle the post-election period”.

"There is a growing need for the church to speak and be heard, and to give leadershp to the people of Zimbabwe."

It says the "daunting task" for the churches now is "how to reconcile a hurting, near hopeless populace; without basic needs, with biting poverty and disillusioned patriotism”.

It adds that the current situation "creates a dangerous vacuum that could lead to total disintegration of the nation as well as threaten the unity of the church".

Zimbabwe’s March elections have been followed by violence and intimidation alleged to have been perpetrated by people acting in support of the ruling party, ZANU-PF. While the Government has denied this, the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has claimed at least 20 of its supporters have been murdered, hundreds beaten and thousands driven from their homes. 

A recount following the March 29 election has shown that Zanu-PF party has lost control of parliament for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980 to the MDC, led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

Official results for the presidential election were released on 2nd May which put opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the lead but did not, according to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), give him an outright victory. The ZEC has said it will release a date for a run-off election soon. It is not yet clear whether the opposition party, which says it has already won an outright victory, will take part.

The WCC/AACC report adds to the growing chorus of voices calling for human rights to be restored in the southern African nation. Recent days have seen everyone from the US President George Bush and UN Secretary-General  Ban Ki-moon express their concern about the situation in Zimbabwe along with church groups 

Last week the heads of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches issued a statement expressing their “deep concern” over the deteriorating political, security, economic and human rights situation in Zimbabwe and warning that unless action is taken, “we shall soon be witnessing genocide similar to that experienced in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and other hot spots in Africa and elsewhere”.

It says that following the elections, organised violence is being perpetrated against people accused of campaigning for the ‘wrong’ party. 

“People are being abducted, tortured, humiliated by being asked to repeat slogans of the political party they are alleged not to support, ordered to tend mass meetings where they are told they voted for the ‘wrong’ candidate and should never repeat it in the runoff for president, and, in some cases, people are murdered,” they say in the statement.

The report also says the humanitarian situation is “plummeting at a frightful pace” with widespread famine and no drugs or medicines in hospitals.

The church leaders call for an immediate end to the political intimidation and retribution arising from the election and call for youth militia and war veteran/military base camps to be closed. They also call on the people of Zimbabwe to “refuse to be used for a political party or other people’s selfish end especially where it concerns violence against other people".

“There’s desperate food shortages, the inflation has meant that for a long time now, it’s almost impossible to buy food...and the amount of violence that’s growing and the fear and insecurity is becoming horrific.”

- Alistair Gee, executive director of the NCCA Christian World Service. 

Last week, the National Council of Churches in Australia issued a statement in support of the Zimbabwean churches and encourages all churches in Australia to continue to pray and increase their support for the people in Zimbabwe. They also called on the Australian Government to provide additional emergency assistance in response to the deteriorating humanitarian situation.

Alistair Gee, executive director of the NCCA World Christian Service, says there is a need for outside intervention in Zimbabwe, involving both African nations and the larger international community, both to address the worsening humanitarian situation and to ensure the electoral process is handled fairly.

He describes the current humanitarian situation in the country, once held up as an example for other African nations to aspire to, as “drastic”.

“There’s desperate food shortages, the inflation has meant that for a long time now, it’s almost impossible to buy food...and the amount of violence that’s growing and the fear and insecurity is becoming horrific.”

Mr Gee believes there needs to be international intervention in Zimbabwe and an arms embargo on the nation - a move which has gained the suport of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu following news that a ship loaded with weapons was headed to the nation (it has since turned back). 

Mr Gee says that if a quick resolution is not found, there could be “mass chaos” in Zimbabwe.