Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Church and Secular Civil Society: Speaking Together Over Lived Realities of the Zimbabwean People.

  A presentation to the Zimbabwe National Agreement Platform (ZiNAP)

Thursday 17 September 2015, ZCTUHead Office, Gorlon House, Harare
 By Takura Zhangazha

Cde Chairperson, 

Thank you for inviting me to be part of these deliberations and to share a few thoughts on the participation of the Church (in its broadest sense) and secular civil society in Zimbabwe in our country’s national development agenda and processes.  I have deliberately referred to secular civil society because in my view,  the Church is also occupying that broader space we refer to as ‘civil society’.  Both by way of existence and action.

However defining these two important aspects of Zimbabwe’s social, cultural and political landscape is not very difficult.

Also, separating them by way of intrinsic shared common and even transcendental good is harder.  This is because the church and secular civil society are structured to serve a broader public  good.  Albeit in different ways, but in the final analysis, with an intention to best advance humanity and the societies it exists in for the good of all. 

In Zimbabwe’s particular context, the Church has always worked closely with secular civil society to ensure that social and economic justice for all are achieved.  Such collaboration predates independence with the Church in its various forms also informing not only the value systems of liberation struggles but also technical capacities through providing education and employment for those that would become nationalist leaders and enhancers of democratic governance and universal suffrage. 

In the aftermath of our national independence this tradition would be continued both at national and community levels with the intention of ensuring that the ideals of not only our national liberation struggle but the universal common good of mankind are successfully realized. 

More recently in the last two decades, the church and secular civil society have sought to complement each other’s efforts through working together toward a national push for democratic and people driven constitutional reform, dealing with various humanitarian crisis as they occurred and trying to provide common platforms of establishing a new shared vision for a democratic and prosperous Zimbabwe.   This is evidenced by the Church’s the Zimbabwe We Want declaration, various ecumenical/pastoral letters to government and worshipers,  and its participation in other processes that would help establish common positions with secular civil society.  

The more recent case was that of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign of 2007. Such efforts have had their incremental successes and arguably helped lead to the establishment of an inclusive government after direct mediation by the regional body, SADC.

Where we fast forward to 2015 and Zimbabwe’s contemporary political economy and social circumstances, there is again evident need to continue the path of complimentarity between the work of the Church and secular civil society.  This as it relates to the advancement of human rights, social and economic justice as well as the building of a democratic national value system as it relates to posterity or the passing on of democratic knowledge from one generation to the next. 

The realistic baseline that this new common ground can be founded on is the new constitution and its incremental advances in relation to human rights, the rule of law and the doctrine of the separation of powers, inclusive of decentralization of power.  Moreso, after a controversial but widely accepted constitutional reform process in which components of the Church and secular civil society played an active if not directly supportive role.

It is in this context that the church and secular civil society must work together.  But in doing so there must be caution over an over-emphasis on legality, wherein the pursuit of good governance as we all know is not limited to the court rooms but must be part of a holistic and shared value system based on democratic principles.

So, as the title of this presentation suggests, there is need for a new trajectory in the developmental process and collaborations between the church and secular civil society organizations.  That essentially means that there is need to take stock, re-evaluate established common principles from the past and apply them organically to our contemporary national context and in response to what the Church and secular CSOs know to  be at the hearts and minds of the people of Zimbabwe.

And an honest assessment will inform us that the primary concern of most Zimbabweans in the immediate, short term and long term is the state of the national economy.  There may be political blame games as to who is responsible for the economic crisis that we are faced with but that invariably remains the forte of those that contest for political office.

It is the role of the Church and secular civil society in relation to the national economy and its value system that is perhaps most important today in Zimbabwe. 

I say this because in relation to democratic values as they concern good governance, free and fair elections, rule of law and gender equality, common values and principles have been established in key consensus documents such as the ‘Zimbabwe We Want’, ‘Beyond ESAP and the Zimbabwe Peoples Charter documents. Where there has been a lack of emphasis, at least consistently so,  has been the arena of our common vision of the national economy in a holistic people driven context. 

So if one wants to establish a new trajectory to the role of the church and secular civil society collaboration going forward, it is of paramount importance that there be a concerted attempt to find common ground on values and principles that both feel should inform the national  economy. This in a people centered and driven process that will at least help set broad civil society parameters beyond the narrower narratives of functioning to challenge government actions without setting out ideals and values to measure such actions against.

In conclusion therefore, Cde Chair,  if we would like a new common trajectory between the church and secular civil society there must be common values and principles established around the lived realities of Zimbabwe’s citizens.  Particularly where such values outline not only ideal but pragmatic solutions as to how there is an intention on the part of stakeholders to get the economy out of the morass of poverty, lack of opportunity and the fear over our children’s future. All of which currently negatively instruct our economic livelihood landscape.

*Takura Zhangazha spoke here in his personal capacity (