CATHOLIC organisations were yesterday outraged after government described its leaders as "genocidal and evil-minded" for calling it out on its increasing human rights violations and demanded an apology.
Information minister Monicah Mutsvangwa (pictured) accused the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference president Bishop Robert Christopher Ndlovu of "leading a coterie of Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops along the wrong path of bygone petty tribalism, narrow regionalism and the debunked and defeated racial antagonism."
"Its evil message reeks with all the vices that have perennially hobbled the progress of Africa. It trumpets petty tribal feuds and narrow regionalist agendas. That he (Archbishop Ndlovu) hopes to sow seeds of internecine strife as a prelude to civil war and national disintegration."
The attack by Mutsvangwa reverberated around the world, appearing in the Vatican News bulletin and leading to Pope Francis's Apostolic Nuncio to Zimbabwe, Archbishop Paolo Rudelli, paying a solidarity visit on Archbishop Ndlovu yesterday.
The Vatican noted that the Archbishop of Harare had been singled out for a "scorching personal attack by the Zimbabwe government" and said the Apostolic Nuncio's visit was also a symbolic act of solidarity with all the bishops of Zimbabwe.
The Vatican reporter, however, noted that the government skirted the issues raised in the pastoral letter.
Catholic Lawyers Guild of Zimbabwe and Catholic Professionals Network of Zimbabwe (CPNZ) described the government statement as an "unwarranted vitriolic attack" and said they were concerned by the attempt to divide the bishops.
"We Catholic Lawyers Guild are deeply concerned by the government of Zimbabwe's unwarranted vitriolic attack on a Pastoral letter issued by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference. We are also concerned by the attempt by Minister of Information, Monica Mutsvangwa to divide the bishops by targeting Archbishop of Harare and president of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference Archbishop Robert Christopher Ndlovu," the lawyers said in a statement.
They said it was not a secret that there was a crisis in Zimbabwe, adding that the crisis comes on the backdrop of unresolved past hurts such as Gukurahundi.
"The bishops acknowledged the seriousness of human rights breaches by the government agents and noted that various voices including the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations have voiced concern over deteriorating human rights situation in the country," the lawyers said.
The association said the health delivery system had virtually collapsed after government failed to address health workers legitimate concerns.
Public health workers have been on strike for almost two months demanding personal protective equipment, better working conditions and salaries in United States dollars.
The lawyers demanded that the government issues an apology and retraction of Mutsvangwa's statement.
"As the Catholic Lawyers Guild, we demand the following from the government: an apology and retraction of the vitriolic response given to the pastoral letter by the ZCBC. An assurance that no harm will befall the bishops on account of the pastoral letter and any future communication, that as true shepherds, they will release and an acknowledgement that Zimbabwe is in crisis," they said.
"We call upon the government to cease or desist from any and all retributive actions against ordinary citizens, journalists, political activists, political parties, civil society and the church," CPNZ said.
Over 60 opposition members were abducted and tortured in the run-up to the July 31 protests, while more than 30 are in hiding.
Outspoken pastor Shingi Munyeza described the Zanu PF administration as "evil, brutal, oppressive and corrupt" and applauded Catholic bishops for bringing the issues to the fore.
"For the past five months, I have incessantly castigated our government leaders for being oppressive, brutal, evil and corrupt. I'm glad the Catholic bishops have started saying the same and I fully support their statement," he said.
"We need to find each other before it's too late. The Church will always be the prophetic voice of God to the nation and must always be found on the side of the poor, oppressed and suffering as clearly articulated in Jesus's mandate as He began His mission to redeem mankind in Luke 4:18-19. I, therefore, call upon everyone to a nationally inclusive, genuine and unconditional dialogue."
National Patriotic Front spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire said Mutsvangwa's attack on the bishops was regrettable.
"I reiterate that the savage attack on Archbishop Ndlovu by Monica Mutsvangwa is regrettable. The attempt to portray Archbishop Ndlovu as fanning tribal hate in the form we saw in Rwanda is ironic, especially when Zimbabweans know that one leader in the current regime. We refuse to be divided by a rogue regime. We are one Zimbabwe and we have freedom, enshrined in our Constitution, to criticise government policy, whether one is Ndebele, Zezuru, Karanga, white, yellow or blue, that right is for us all," he said.
Government has attracted widespread condemnation over the worsening human rights situation in the country, leading to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa dispatching envoys to the country in an attempt to address the situation.
The Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA) also called for national dialogue to end challenges facing the nation.
"We believe that there is an urgent need for the nation to return to implementing the Constitution fully. If the Constitution is implemented as the people of Zimbabwe wrote it in 2013, it will bring necessary political, social and economic reforms and renewal that the nation desperately needs," the ZCA board of trustees said.
"However, the agenda on national dialogue should be from the communities and not a political elite settlement. In that regard, we are seized with community dialogues that are agenda setting on key issues for ordinary Zimbabweans.
"Parts of these include outstanding issues to deal with the nation's violent past. We need to create a platform of dialogue that will acknowledge the past, apologise and work on new beginnings based on reconciliation."
The Zimbabwe Law Society (LSZ) in a statement yesterday also called on the government to stop the attacks on legal practitioners and innocent citizens.
"It is unacceptable that remand prisoners such as journalists Hopewell Chin'ono and Jacob Ngarivhume should have to incur legal expense in order to enforce respect by the state of simple and obvious rights such as private counsel with their lawyers, access to clothing and food and not being subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment in prison" LSZ executive secretary Edward Mapara said.
Mapara also condemned the arrest of ZimLive editor Mdudusi Mathuthu's sister, Nomagugu Mathuthu and the abduction of his relative Tawanda Muchehiwa.
Muchehiwa was abducted, tortured and only produced at court after the intervention of the High Court following a petition by the lawyers for human rights.