Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) have sent an open letter addressed to President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, SADC President.

We, the Catholic Bishops of IMBISA (Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa – Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, Sao Tome e Principe, South Africa & Zimbabwe) gathered in Pretoria for our 9th Plenary Session, wish to address a very particular plea to the political leaders of the SADC region. We do this at a critical time in the life of the Zimbabwean Nation. We do this firstly and especially, out of a deep concern for the suffering people of Zimbabwe.

We acknowledge the important role played by SADC in facilitating the Global Political Agreement (GPA) which led directly to the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU). We acknowledge too, the courage of the three Principals in the GNU, namely President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara. This was the fruit of a true African solidarity – something to be celebrated and a cause for great hope in the region. It promised a new dawn for Zimbabwe.

However, two years later, we are concerned at the lack of meaningful progress: not all aspects of the GPA have been fulfilled within the agreed timeframe. Despite some improvements in the country we note that the ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe continue to suffer from, amongst other things: extreme poverty; high levels of unemployment; inadequate health and education services; lack of investment and confidence in the economy of the country. This is all the more tragic – and indeed a matter of grave injustice – when we consider the wealth of the country with respect both to its human and its material resources.

As we write, we are aware of talk of – if not even plans for – the holding of elections in 2011. We strongly believe that holding elections at this stage would be dangerously premature. Conditions in the country are emphatically NOT conducive to elections in 2011. This is due to the following factors:

• The GPA has not been fully implemented;

• The process of formulating the new Constitution remains incomplete and is in fact way behind schedule. It is not known when the referendum on the Constitution will be held;

• The Voters’ Roll has not been updated;

• Freedom of Association and of the Media is severely restricted;

• The Nation is in the grip of extreme fear; polarization is still evident; there are increasing signs of intimidation and/ or violence as the election campaign builds up.

Should those in power choose to proceed with elections in 2011, then we assert emphatically that two things should be considered as preconditions for the said elections namely, 1) a roadmap leading up to the elections be put in place and 2) the elections be conducted in accordance with SADC’s Guidelines for Elections.

The positive gains achieved by the intervention of SADC, including the establishment of the GNU, simply cannot be allowed to go to waste. This southern African situation cries out for a solution that respects human dignity and social justice. This then is our plea: that SADC be the agent that brings about this urgently needed recovery of Zimbabwe. This would bring with it the long-awaited development and integration of the region. It would bring healing, peace and prosperity to the suffering people of Zimbabwe.
We call upon SADC to spearhead the task of restoring Zimbabwe to its rightful and proud place in the international community. We implore Almighty God to bless our long-suffering region and so too, the continent of Africa. May His Holy Spirit give wisdom, courage and compassion to all those entrusted with the leadership of its Nations.

Signed by

Bishop Frank Nubuasah, President of IMBISA

Archbishop Gabriel Mbilingi, President of CEAST – Angola & Sao Tome e Principe

Archbishop Gerard T. Lerotholi, President of LCBC – Lesotho

Archbishop Buti Thlagale, President of SACBC (South Africa, Botswana & Swaziland)

Archbishop Liborious N Nashenda, President of NCBC – Namibia

Bishop Lúcio A. Muandula, President of CEM – Mozambique

Bishop Angelo Floro Martinez, President of ZCBC – Zimbabwe