South Africa (CNS) -- For the "cycle of violence, humiliation, oppression and exploitation" in Zimbabwe to stop, the truth about the country's violence needs to be told and the rival between Shona and Ndebele needs to be addressed, said Zimbabwe's Catholic bishops in Cape Town.
The bishops said Zimbabwe "is deeply divided" politically and, besides having conflict between different racial groups, its painful history includes "hurtful memories from ethnic rivalry" between the Shona and Ndebele people.
"We, as leaders of the church, are committed to helping this country achieve
normalcy," they said.
"We recommend that there be open and public admission that violence has been
part of our life and history," the bishops said, noting that "victims need to tell their stories in a free and supportive environment" and perpetrators "need to take responsibility for their sins."
In an Oct. 1 pastoral letter on national healing and reconciliation, the bishops said "the church is prepared to offer the mechanism" and to "play a significant role not only in healing and cohesion but also in the much-needed reconciliation."
They said those who have used their positions of power "to direct, command, plan or directly commit acts of violence should not be allowed to hold any public office" that could be used to perpetrate further violence.
"For national reconciliation and healing to take place effectively, it is necessary that the entire nation participates in a comprehensive, all-inclusive, holistic and clearly defined national process underpinned by strong political will and desire to reconcile and heal the nation," the bishops said.
When Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980, "we all pretended
that we could start afresh in a new Zimbabwe without dealing with our past or defining collectively what future we desired for our nation," the bishops said.
"We pretended that the anger and hatred that had accumulated over many years
could simply vanish with independence. This failure to deal with our past continues to haunt us," they said.
The southern African country's "political history is characterized by the use of state institutions as partisan tools to support the ruling party," they said, noting that people "who have opposed the ruling party have been marginalized and sometimes criminalized" and the lack of space for "healthy political debates" has caused "frustration and resentment."
The main cause of conflicts in Zimbabwe "is the consistent violation of human dignity and therefore human rights," the bishops said.
Noting that Zimbabweans have "a second chance" that they must use, the bishops urged the government "to show political willingness by creating a conducive environment for national healing, reconciliation and integration."
Under the deal that brought President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and Morgan Tsvangirai's opposition Movement for Democratic Change into a coalition government in February, the parties agreed to consider setting up a mechanism for national healing, the bishops said.
There is a general admission in Zimbabwe "that our situation is a real crisis which cannot be left unattended," the bishops said, noting that while the deal that led to the coalition government has limitations they regard it "as a moment of grace that can and should be turned into a new beginning."
"Genuine healing and reconciliation can only take place when the environment
is open, free and democratic," they said, noting that "when such an environment does not exist, as is currently the case, the church commits herself to working toward its establishment."
Calling on all people of good will, the government and civil society "to support this effort to heal those who have been wounded" in Zimbabwe, the bishops said "restorative justice will help to heal those whose rights were undermined and, with the help of the Lord, they will achieve reconciliation and peace."
This is not "an easy or short-term task," they said, noting that they have begun this work in caring for victims of "inhuman torture" and "desire to complete it with the guidance of the Holy Spirit."
The bishops appealed "to the perpetrators of these atrocities, accomplices and instigators of violence to acknowledge the evil deeds" and to make restitution.
They also appealed to the victims to forgive, noting that this is difficult.
"Do not expect total compensation but what the community can afford," they said.
"We are all guilty, for those who have been victims at one time have been aggressors at another, and many more have done nothing in the face of atrocities perpetrated before their eyes. Today, we all need healing from these hurts and from our guilt," they said.
Noting that reconciliation is a "demanding responsibility which calls for great commitment, dedication and sacrifice," the bishops said a framework for national healing and reconciliation drawn up by Zimbabwe's churches and civil society in May "could serve as a starting point for healing our nation."
The framework "proposes a comprehensive process for intervention" by the government, the church, civil society and other sectors, they said.