Zimbabwe Churches Call for National Debate to End Crisis

Churches in Zimbabwe have called for a national debate in a bid to end the worst economic and political crisis to hit the country since it gained independence 26 years ago.

"Our nation is desperately in need of a physician, and that physician is none other than us the people of Zimbabwe," Roman Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical leaders stated in a document entitled The Zimbabwe We Want: Towards A National Vision For Zimbabwe.

The call comes as the country's Agriculture Minister, Joseph Made, admitted that the country did not harvest enough food last season and that an army-led programme to produce food had failed.

David Coltart, a white member of Zimbabwe's divided Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, has also listed a high AIDS death rate, a running inflation of 1,200 per cent and widespread malnutrition as just some of the challenges rocking the country.

"We estimate that 3,500 people a week are dying due to the convergence of these three factors. Average life expectancy of a woman has dropped to just 34 years. The cemeteries are filled to overflowing," he told Reuters.

"I am appalled how much Zimbabwe has fallen off Europe's radar screen," he said. "I understand the preoccupations with Iraq, Afghanistan and Darfur, but our people are dying like flies and no one seems to notice."

The church leaders admitted in the statement that they had failed to speak out on behalf of the people during the crisis, which they say has been worsening over the past 11 years, reports Ecumenical News International.

"As churches, we confess we have failed the nation because we have not been able to speak with one voice. We have often not been the salt and the light that the Gospel calls us to be. We, therefore, confess our failure and ask for God's forgiveness."

The group said: "We will therefore never tire or give up until our goal is achieved. We are not interested in forming a political party as some are suggesting."

The official Herald newspaper also reported that the country has imported 30.4 tonnes of wheat at an estimated cost of US$10.6m to ease the bread shortage in the crisis-hit country.

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