Zimbabweans urged to continue protesting

/ Source: The Associated Press

An outspoken Catholic archbishop urged Zimbabweans to fill the streets to protest a surge in state-orchestrated violence, saying Thursday he was willing to lead a campaign of peaceful resistance to force President Robert Mugabe out of office.

Mugabe’s opponents reported that a hospitalized activist had died of injuries suffered when police fired tear gas, live ammunition and water cannons to stop a March 11 prayer meeting protesting his rule. Police did not confirm the death of Itai Manyeruki, who would be the second activist to die as a result of violence. Gift Tandare, 31, was fatally shot as the meeting was dispersed.

Archbishop Pius Ncube told a gathering of clerics, pro-democracy activists and mostly Western diplomats in Harare on Thursday that, “We must be ready to stand, even in front of blazing guns.”

“I am ready to stand in front,” he said. “The biggest problem is Zimbabweans are cowards, myself included. We must get off our comfortable seats and suffer with the people.”

Ncube has long been an ardent critic of Mugabe, 83, and his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party. The archbishop’s past efforts to rally Zimbabweans have not led to mass protests.

Ncube said the nation’s economic collapse had led to many more deaths than the political violence.

Reports of police breaking up prayer
Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, and another 46 activists were hospitalized after the arrest, beatings and alleged torture by the police breaking up the prayer meeting organized by the Christian Alliance of Zimbabwe, head of a grouping of church, civic and opposition groups. The violence prompted a world outcry.

Two injured activists were freed by a court order and allowed to fly to neighboring South Africa for treatment unavailable in Zimbabwe.

Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinje, who were admitted to a Johannesburg hospital Thursday, had been detained when they first tried to fly to South Africa for treatment.

Mugabe ordered an often violent land redistribution program in 2000 to seize white-owned commercial farms and hand them over to blacks. The program disrupted the economy of the former regional breadbasket, leading to acute shortages of food, hard currency, gasoline, medicines and other essential imports.

“We have to stand up against this oppression. The time for radicalism is now,” Ncube said. “If we gather a crowd of 20,000, the government will not use its guns.”

Southern African leaders, except for Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, have been muted in their criticism of Mugabe.

Malawian church leaders and human rights activists held a candlelit vigil and prayers Thursday “to beseech God to intercede in the deteriorating human rights and political situation” in Zimbabwe. A similar coalition in Botswana staged a demonstration to urge both the government and the Southern African Development Community to take a tougher line.

But Mugabe’s clampdown was not on the agenda of a meeting in Lesotho of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community.