This might not look like the average Mothers’ Union meeting as we know them in Britain, but in terms of peacefulness, good works, child-centredness and Christian goodness, the Mothers’ Union branch in Harare is no different from its UK counterparts. Having known more hardship, its members are probably even more good than the unsung English stalwarts who keep the churches here upright in every sense. There can be no true explanation then for why, shortly after this photograph was taken, this meeting was broken up by Zimbabwe riot police.This is the report just in from Ruth Bakare, pictured left. It has come in on the day that church leaders have warned of ‘genocide’ in Zimbabwe.
Diocese of Harare (CPCA)
The Events of Lady Day 2008 Celebrated on 19th April 2008 at St. Michael’s Mbare
Theme: “You are my witnesses” (Isa 43,1-2,10)
This was the first big Mothers’ Union event since the Diocese of Harare (CPCA) had come into existence in Nov 2007. Members were to gather from all over the diocese at St. Michael’s Church Mbare which has a big church and even bigger church grounds fully walled and gated (not unimportant in our current situation). However as we expected many women, a tent had been hired (donated by the hiring company!) and there are also big trees for shelter from the sun. There were plenty of benches and chairs for people to sit.
Indeed the women came from all over our diocese, some from as far as Kariba on the border with Zambia, some 250k away. They came and came and filled the church grounds – 3200 of them! An altar had been erected inside the tent, and we started the day at 9am with mass conducted by the Bishop assisted by several priests. After mass when we sat down for lunch, the first policemen arrived to say we had to leave as we were no longer allowed to use the church but only Kunonga’s priests. Our Diocesan Deputy Registrar, Vimbai Nyemba, also a MU member, spoke to the police and was later assisted by the Diocesan Registrar who arrived shortly afterwards. They demanded to see a court order but there was none, and they discovered that the police request had no legal basis. Some women started leaving the place afraid of the police. Others engaged the policemen and women in conversations. There was a police woman in civics who is said to be related to one of Kunonga’s fiercest supporters. She accused the women saying, “You want to be Christians and can’t obey the law”, but the women said, “What law – the words that are coming from your mouth?” thereby intimating at the lawlessness behind the whole thing.
Most of us ignored the police and continued our lunch. Some suggested I should go to the priest’s house next to the church since I was the only white face around. But I really did not feel like leaving the gathering and decided to stay. After all I was the main speaker after lunch on the theme of the day. Shortly after 2pm I started to deliver my address with my translator beside me. As I looked around, I discovered that those women who had left earlier had all come back – the crowd was still as big as before. “You are my witnesses” – indeed.
Half way through my address I saw a truck with riot police drive into the yard towards the crowd in a rather aggressive way. I asked Vimbai whether I should continue and she advised me to ignore them. So I did. And just as I said in my address: “What have we not seen” (or witnessed in today’s Zimbabwe), the second truckload of police arrived, and a policeman came to the front of the tent where I was and requested us to leave immediately. The women started saying a last prayer, and many were shedding tears. Then they began to disperse one by one, with some older ladies on walking sticks trotting behind. The Bishop and I took our time leaving and followed other women who were driving out of the gate. Most of the women had gathered just outside the church grounds by the gate and were now singing hymns on top of their voices. When our car went out of the gate, it was like a “triumphant exit from Jerusalem”, the way the women responded – was it joy or anger? Certainly they sounded happy and confident and some were saying, “The devil came late today. After all we had nearly finished our day.” When they saw me moved to tears at their singing and cheering us, they called to me “Musatye” (don’t be afraid”), and indeed I was not, carried by so much joy and love and hope. I knew that what we are going through is only for a while. “We shall overcome!”