ZIMBABWE APRIL 2009

Zimbabwe really does seem to be getting better.  That’s the good news. It’s not spectacular change; but there is now food in the shops; prices have come down since January; no Zimbabwean money is used now, just US dollars and rands. Of course no one has much money and salaries are very low but at least they have something to live on.  Also there is a fragile peace. It seems that ZANU-PF are somewhat divided with one faction trying to disrupt the unity agreement and another trying to make it work. It is a very unjust agreement as most of the power remains with ZANU-PF, but the MDC are making inroads into that.  There is far less fear in the air than there was before.

Some things remain the same – practically no street lights; traffic lights work only intermittently; there are daily power cuts and the water hasn’t run in large parts of Harare since last August. Schools and hospitals are just functioning, but supplies are very low and everything threatens to collapse again.  

Of course, we had a marvellous time. This time I was accompanied by a young priest (former student of the College) John Williams. We began in Harare staying a night with Phillip Mutasa where we began discussions on a project for young people (see below). Then John and I drove down to Masvingo where the clergy of the diocese had gathered for a study workshop.

 

These gatherings are important for them as they live very stressful lives out in the bush, isolated from each other and unable to do much reading. John took them expertly through the history of the Book of Common Prayer which he turned into a rapid summary of the events and issues of the Reformation Settlement and showed how it had helped to give us the prayer book we have. I contributed bits and pieces of modern history which effected changes in the prayer book Zimbabweans now have (UDI in 1965 Rhodesia was one such event). Then we spent some hours on ‘the gay issue’ trying to get the priests to open their minds to the possibility that homosexuality was not all about abuse.  

When the priests departed John and I went to visit Great Zimbabwe. The next day we were off to St Barnabas Sherugwi with the Bishop to take part in the Fathers Union – a new creation of the Bishop’s who is a great believer in Church organisations. It was impressive to find about 200 men gathered in church. They had been there since the night before, sleeping on classroom floors and would be there the next night. After some hours of talks, singing and lunch the Bishop decided that it would be too much for our stamina to stay through the night and sent John and me back to Masvingo. He himself got back at 4a.m! Next morning John and I celebrated and preached at the Cathedral services and in the afternoon had some very interesting talk with the Community of the Blessed Lady Mary, a little community who have just attracted 4 nice but very young aspirants. There is a problem here that needs to be faced. Most of the sisters in Zimbabwean communities are poorly educated and have few skills that could earn them a proper living. The new generation must be as well educated as possible and trained to do jobs that produce real money. Otherwise, not only will they struggle to survive and fail to attract good recruits; they will simply not be able to grow as thinking, spiritually aware religious. Some of us need to provide the money to make this possible.  

From Masvingo we drove due East through the hot dry country of Gutu and the Savi river which we crossed at the beautiful Birchenough Bridge, then on up the eastern side of the country to Mutare and Penhalonga. Arriving at Penhalonga is always fun as the kids from the home come tearing out and fling ourselves on us. The CZR sisters greet us with a little more restraint but equal enthusiasm. We had a wonderful few days there as John got to know the kids and we both enjoyed the sisters’ generous and often uproariously amusing hospitality. But there are big problems. The Community has to grow its own food and most of the sisters are elderly. The fit ones work incredibly hard. This makes it difficult to sustain a healthy community life or good worship.  The kids at the Home are lovely, but the Home is falling to pieces; it is understaffed and the staff are unimaginative. The place urgently needs a radical rethink and renewal.

For a few days we brought a bit of variety into their lives, and we gave the sisters a daily mass, which they love and cannot get. The mission itself is badly cared for, the school demoralised and most of the mission sides with the renegade bishop Jakazi while the sisters have declared themselves openly for the proper Anglican church. On one day we took some of the Sisters up to Bonda to meet with the sisters of the Community of the Transfiguration. Here we met Fr Luke Chigwanda who works for an NGO and helps with services at the Church. Fr Sam Doma is the priest in charge, but after a very unpleasant and violent confrontation with Jakazi when Sam and the church wardens declared themselves for the CPCA, he has taken his family off the mission and comes to celebrate weekend services only.

The next day I went into Mutare to attend the Diocesan Synod where I met all the priests who have stood up against Jakazi (too few really) along with about 200 lay representatives.

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Bishop Hatendi was in the chair and the main purpose of the Synod was to elect committees who would then have the legal right to run the diocese and work towards the election of a new bishop. While we met about 50 members of the Mothers Union, loyal to Jakazi, sang and drummed outside the church to try and disrupt the proceedings. In the end the police came and sent them away. The previous Sunday there had been a violent altercation at another Mutare church so the situation in that diocese is still very bad.

On the Sunday John and I returned to Harare along with Nyasha Wedu, a boy from St Augustine ’s Home who we are hoping to establish in a new life in Harare . My last few days in Harare were spent seeing friends, visiting Shearly Cripps Children’s Home, shopping for batiks to sell over here and clearing out my sister’s flat. Then leaving John behind I flew down to Cape Town . There, with our oblate Fr Alan Brown, I stayed first in Pinelands, giving a few talks on prayer, and then in Paarl where our talks on prayer and confession were enriched by the company of some very delightful clergy and some wonderful local wine! The Bishop of the Diocese of Saldanha Bay is an old friend of ours and he is encouraging us to work in his diocese. Three students went there last year and three more will go this year. Time will tell whether we can do more in some ways that may open up new kinds of involvement for our Companions and Oblates.  

Tariro Youth Project  

The Anglican church has three children’s homes in Harare and Manicaland. The children have to leave at 18 but most have no families to go to. We are trying to set up  house in Harare which could be a home to these youngsters helping them to get started in life. At the same time there are young people attached to churches in Harare who have been orphaned and so dropped out of school for lack of fees or support. Tariro means ‘hope’. We want to give these young people hope. Phillip Mutasa and some fellow Zimbabweans are working together to get these youngsters back into education, training or work and to give them a real sense of home and loving support. Carl Melville and I are supporting the project from this end. It is exciting but demanding setting up a project like this in present day Zimbabwe . We need your prayers.

                                                                                                            Nicolas CR