Archbishop Pius Ncube: A lonely struggle against tyranny

By  Art Babych, Catholic Register Special
  • October 3, 2006
Archbishop Pius NcubeOTTAWA - Long a thorn in the side of Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo — the African nation's second largest city — is showing no signs of relenting in his campaign to remove Mugabe from power.
"Mugabe believes he is the owner of the people," says Ncube. "He can violate the rights of the people of Zimbabwe. He killed 20,000 innocent civilians on the pretext that he was chasing after dissidents."

The archbishop was speaking at a public meeting at Carleton University in Ottawa Sept. 22, sponsored by the university's political science department and its African studies committee.

"Mugabe is 82 years old and he continues to rule that country," he said. "This is his 26th year as president. He has been rigging elections and cheating to stay in power."

Ncube — whose supporters compare him to Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, the Anglican archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa — has received numerous death threats over the years but refuses to curb his criticisms of Mugabe. In his last visit to Canada two years ago, one of the archbishop's talks was simply entitled, "I won't shut up." Mugabe, also a Catholic, has called the archbishop "unholy" and labelled him a hypocrite, a half-wit and a liar.

Born of peasant stock in southern Zimbabwe 60 years ago, Ncube has won human rights awards for speaking out against human rights violations in Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia. Last year, he called for a peaceful "popular mass uprising" to remove Mugabe from power.

Ncube, who leads an interdenominational church coalition fighting against human rights violations in Zimbabwe, said the Mugabe regime has also "infiltrated" church groups, including the Catholic bishops' conference, with the aim of dividing its members, "so that churches don't speak with in one voice." He said some pastors have been "bought over by Mugabe through gifts - farms and computers and automobiles."

Accompanying Ncube on his latest trip to North America was his human rights advisor, Shari Eppel. She spoke of the effects of a government operation started in May 2005 and known as "Drive out the trash." It saw the demolition of thousands of shantytown homes and businesses and the inhabitants moved to rural areas.

Eppel said 550,000 people were displaced throughout Zimbabwe and another 2.4 million suffered effects of the demolition. In Bulawayo, "45,000 structures were knocked down and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced," she said.

The government has done nothing to provide homes to those people displaced from urban areas to the countryside, Eppel said. "Not one single person has been housed in four provinces I researched," she said. "It's of huge concern to note that in effect the UN and the international community have done almost as little. All that's been done nationally is 800 temporary shelters, which is a four-per-cent delivery rate on what the UN said they were going to do and this is only in the greater Harare area."

Outside of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, nothing has been done, she added. "Not one single shelter has been built by anyone in the international community in the entire country since this terrible exercise."

While in Ottawa, Ncube also took part in a news conference on Parliament Hill, sponsored by the New Democrat Party's Faith and Justice Caucus. The group wants the international community to increase pressure on the government of Zimbabwe to allow "true democracy" to grow. "Civil society must be allowed to flourish if human rights are to be protected," it said.

(Babych is a freelance writer in Ottawa.)

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