By Kholwani Nyathi
Harare – A church was recently forced to close down in Matabeleland North as Zanu PF militias and war veterans stepped up terror attacks against opposition supporters following President Robert Mugabe’s defeat in last month’s elections. Churches In Bulawayo (CIB), which brings together pastors from different denominations scattered across the city and surrounding districts, said last week it was inundated with victims of political violence fleeing their homes. It said the Assembles of God church in Dola in Bubi District was closed down as its resident pastor fled after being tortured by Zanu PF supporters on suspicion he was an MDC sympathiser. A CIB official, Josephat Amuli, said the pastor, now being treated at a secret location, was still “too traumatised” to be interviewed. “It is a cause of great concern that one church in the Inyathi area that falls under the Bubi constituency has been forced to close down,” Amuli said. “This is an infringement of our constitutional right to freedom of worship. A Christian leader in the area is currently hospitalised as he was traumatized by the threats and accusations.” A Zanu PF candidate, Clifford Sibanda won the Bubi parliamentary constituency but the area has been rocked by violence blamed on his party’s supporters campaigning for President Robert Mugabe ahead of the anticipated run-off against the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai had insisted he won the presidential election outright while Zanu PF maintained that his victory margin did not carry him over the 51% threshold to avoid a run-off against Mugabe.
Last week, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) issued a statement calling for international intervention to end the political violence. They said people were being “abducted, tortured and humiliated”, and forced to “attend mass meetings where they are told they voted for the ‘wrong’ candidate” and in some cases murdered. “Organised violence perpetrated against individuals, families and communities, who are accused of campaigning or voting for the ‘wrong’ political party, has been unleashed throughout the country,” the churches said in a statement. Amuli said they had resolved as churches to give victims of political violence refuge at their premises, while lobbying for international pressure to end the crisis. “We are also getting reports of mobilisation and preparations for organised violence by some militias against people in the rural areas. This is a form of retribution against the people for electing candidates of their own choice and also an attempt to influence them to vote in a particular way in the event of a run-off.” Matabeleland North police could not immediately comment on the attacks on church leaders.