United Church Urges Canada to Help End the Zimbabwe Crisis

    TORONTO, June 27 /CNW/ - Toronto: Imagine having to spend more than
$75.00 for a loaf of bread. How would you feed your family? A question not
unlike this is anguished over every day by millions of citizens of Zimbabwe.
    With inflation near 4,000 percent, the highest in the world, most
Zimbabweans can't afford a loaf of bread. Some parents have no choice but to
watch their children starve.
    Tragically, Zimbabwe, which only a few years ago was known as "Africa's
breadbasket," now receives international food aid to prevent mass starvation.
Vital social and physical infrastructure including health care, education, and
transportation are in acute crisis. Unemployment is at 80 percent and millions
of Zimbabweans have fled the country.
    In a letter sent to Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, The United
Church of Canada has registered its deep concern over the deteriorating
situation in Zimbabwe, a country in the throes of a devastating and
increasingly violent economic and political crisis.
    "The United Church is Canada's largest Protestant denomination and we
interpret the gospel of Jesus Christ as a call to participate in the justice
work of the global church, within which we and the churches in Zimbabwe work
in partnership," writes Nora Sanders, General Secretary of the General
    Gary Kenny is The United Church of Canada's Program Coordinator for
Southern Africa. "We believe the international community, including Canada,
can and must do more to support a peaceful resolution to the crisis, because
Canada and other Western countries are part of the problem," says Kenny.
    Kenny explains that Zimbabwe's current woes have their roots in the
country's debilitating colonial legacy. Ethnic groups were played off against
one another by colonial authorities and patterns of corruption and the abuse
of power were instilled. Even in post-colonial Zimbabwe the West has continued
to exploit the country through inequities in international trade rules, the
unfair pricing of commodities on the international market, and other factors.
    "The West, Canada included, is complicit in supporting these systems of
domination that have constrained Zimbabwe's sovereign political and economic
development," Kenny says.
    President Mugabe and his government must be held responsible for
implementing policies that immediately put at risk the lives of millions of
Zimbabweans, Kenny adds. But the blame for Zimbabwe's problems, and the
responsibility to resolve them, must be shared.
    Kenny adds that Zimbabweans have demonstrated a remarkable resilience,
finding ingenious ways to survive from one day to the next. However, their
ability to cope is increasingly challenged. Recent months have seen a surge in
public protests in defiance of a government ban on public demonstrations. The
government's reaction is becoming increasingly severe.
    Kenny explains that in order to prevent popular criticism and dissent,
the Mugabe government has become increasingly authoritarian. It has enacted
legislation by presidential decree to limit freedom of expression and
assembly. When street protests do occur, the government reacts violently,
including with live ammunition. Reports of abductions, arbitrary arrests,
beatings, and torture of activists and protestors in police cells are
    Kenny says the United Church's partners in Zimbabwe are struggling to
help resolve the crisis by speaking out against global systemic injustice and
human rights abuses while serving the growing social needs of their members.
It is clear, however, that if further bloodshed is to be avoided much more
needs to be done in support of peaceful, democratic change in Zimbabwe.
    In particular, Kenny says, The United Church of Canada is calling on the
Canadian government

    -   to do more to support the peaceful resolution of the crisis. In
        particular, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)
        should increase its funding for critical programs offered by
        Zimbabwean civil society organizations. Reports indicate that CIDA
        recently reduced its funding to these groups by 20 percent (from
        $5 million to $4 million annually). If true, these cuts will severely
        limit the capacity of humanitarian groups to deliver vitally needed
        social programs and will leave some activists, human rights defenders
        especially, more vulnerable to state persecution.

    -   to appoint a special representative to carry out strategic behind-
        the-scenes shuttle diplomacy in the southern African region. We
        believe the right person, someone with impeccable diplomatic
        credentials and real and perceived sensitivity, objectivity, and
        integrity, could make a difference where other methods of diplomacy
        have failed.

    Kenny says that historically Canada has played a significant role in the
struggle for social justice in the region of southern Africa, in particular,
in the struggle to end apartheid.
    "It would be most fitting if Canada could add Zimbabwe to the list of
southern African countries it has closely and effectively accompanied through
times of great crisis," says Kenny.

For further information:

For further information: or to arrange media interviews, please contact:
Mary-Frances Denis, Communications Officer, The United Church of Canada, (416)
231-7680 ext. 2016 (office), (416) 885-7478 (cell), (416) 766-0057 (home)

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