Police question Church leaders ahead of weekend prayer meeting

By Violet Gonda
12 April 2007

Two church leaders from the Christian Alliance were questioned by police on Thursday in connection with a prayer meeting that is scheduled for Bulawayo on Saturday. This will be the second time in just over a month that the group, under the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, will attempt to hold a prayer meeting. Useni Sibanda, the National Coordinator of the Alliance said: “As I speak to you right now, two of our leaders have been called in by police for questioning and that is Pastor Ray Motsi and Pastor Patson Nheta because the Christian Alliance is the one that is coordinating the meeting.”

He said the police also threatened the priest in charge of St Patrick’s Catholic Church, the venue of the meeting, and ordered him to call off the meeting. But the group said the prayer meeting would go ahead despite the harassment by the police. This Catholic Church is in the diocese of the outspoken cleric Archbishop Pius Ncube, who is expected to lead the sermon. Speakers will also include opposition leaders: Morgan Tsvangirai & Arthur Mutambara, National Constitutional Assembly Chairperson, Dr Lovemore Madhuku; Zimbabwe National Students Union President Promise Mkwananzi; the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and several Bishops from South Africa who are coming in solidarity.

The regime has been using its muscle, through draconian security laws like the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), to clampdown on pro-democracy groups. When asked if the Church had notified the police Pastor Sibanda responded by saying: “There is no law in Zimbabwe which requires us to do that because literally this is a religious meeting convened by bonafied religious organisations. There is no need for us to ask for police permission to do that.”
Last month armed riot police blocked a similar meeting in Harare and severely assaulted political and civic leaders. The Save Zimbabwe Campaign is a coalition of pro-democracy groups - including political parties, students, civic society and Churches.
Pastor Sibanda said this time they had decided to hold the prayer meeting in a Church to avoid a repeat of what happened on March 11th. “Last time we had hired a public venue but this time we are inside a church premise. At least we expect them to have the decency to respect the church.”
He said they want people to come and pray for an end to the crisis and the suffering of the people in Zimbabwe. The Church is increasingly speaking out against the injustices in Zimbabwe. Just last week, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference wrote a highly critical message on the crisis in Zimbabwe, in a pastoral letter for Easter. The bishops concluded in their statement that the crisis in Zimbabwe is a crisis of governance and a crisis of leadership, plus a spiritual and moral crisis. The Christian Alliance says it fully supports the pastoral letter.

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