The
Zimbabwe
Letters

     
 

Church Leader Arrested

 
     
  At 6 a.m. this morning a friend in Bulawayo called to say that one of the courageous church leaders protecting those who were evicted from the Killarney Squatter camp has been arrested.

Fr Barnabus, priest at Church of the Ascension in the Hillside area of Bulawayo, was taken into custody last night for photograhing the latest atrocity to hit the poor in Bulawayo: the forcible removal of more than 300 men, women, and children from the churches that were sheltering and feeding them.

Church of the Ascension had been a temporary home for as many as 150 people evicted in the brutal police demolition of Killarney squatter camp. The church and its residents were brutally rousted in the middle of the night and forced onto trucks and taken to the state-holding camp at Helensvale farm, 20 km north-west of the city.

Father Barnabus, whose vicarage is next door to the church, was awaken by the noise. He went to investigate and was arrested for taking photographs. Barnabus was held in police custody until 4 a.m. He has been told to report to the police station for a hearing at 9 a.m. on Thursday July 21st; he hopes to be accompanied by a human rights lawyer. Father Barnabus asked for the prayers of the faithful and renewed vigilance over the fate of those who have forcibly removed from the care of the churches in Bulawayo.

Until Wednesday, church leaders, who had previously refused to move the over 2 000 displaced people to the holding camp until basic amenities such as tents, toilets and clean water were in place, said on Monday that they were "satisfied" with the facilities installed at the farm.

The religious leaders, assisted by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), had continued to monitor the welfare of the families at the green-tented transit camp. But no more.

Pastor Albert Chatindo used to make the 20-km journey each day to check on his flock and to hold religious services at the camp. On Wednesday, however, he was forcibly evicted from the camp. Authorities were not wiling to wait even though he was in the middle of conducting a church service. Pastor Chatindo was told that church leaders are no longer permitted to have
access to their parishioners or to monitor conditions within the camps. The minister was not even allowed to go back for his Bible.

The families are part of close to a million people displaced by the government's clean-up campaign countrywide. They are supposed to remain at Helensvale for up to three months before they can find more permanent places to stay.

More of the displaced families still in church halls across Bulawayo were to have been vetted and sent to Helensvale or to their original rural homes, according to Zimbabwe National Pastors' Conference chairman, Raymond Motsi.

Before this latest midnight raid, Raymond Motsi had said: "We continue to play a very significant role in deciding who goes where and what happens and the NGOs are very much behind us. The most important thing is that the government has minimal input in terms of what's going on here and the church is the bigger influence," Motsi said.

Not any more.

Government authorities, stung by the scathing South African Council of Churches (SACC) report from their visit to the Caledonia farm camp last week, have responded to the delegation's critique by kicking the church leaders out of the state-holding camp at Helensvale farm and arresting Father Barnabus.

The Rev Graham Shaw believes that this latest attack on the poor and the churches was triggered by the SACC visit .

On Tuesday, a second delegation of SACC church leaders, including Methodist Bishop Paul Verryn of Johannesburg, visited Harare yesterday at the invitation of the ZCC and Methodist Church leaders.  Bishop Verryn is scheduled to report the findings of the delegation to a gathering of Methodist bishops on Thursday morning. He will inform them of this latest
attack upon the poor in Bulawayo.

Funds for legal fees and feeding the poor continue to be needed. Please give generously.