BIC area representative reports “situation in Zimbabwe is not improving”

Grantham, Pa. Jake Shenk, longtime missionary with BIC World Missions and BICWM’s area representative in southern Africa, has observed a lot of suffering during his years of service in Zimbabwe. But in the days leading up to the June 27 run-off election, he is seeing new levels of desperation. In a June 17 email communiqué to Chris Sharp, interim executive direction of BICWM, Shenk noted that “it is true that the situation is not improving.” At the same time, he notes heightened resolve the citizenry to bring about change. He wrote:

“It is hard to understand how the ruling party thinks that beating and killing people will encourage people to vote for them. Nearly everywhere I go, people tell me that it is only making them angrier and determined to vote for the opposition candidate. There are people who have fled from their home areas and have gone into hiding because of the violence. This may affect the results of the election and could be part of the objective. The president has refused to consider the country as one constituency for the presidential election. Therefore, people must vote in their respective constituencies. If they flee from their home areas they will not be able to vote.

Much of the violence has taken place in some of the Mashonaland constituencies which had previously been the stronghold of the ruling party but voted for the opposition in March. There are many reports of beatings, killings, and imprisonments. Most, but not all of the violence, has been directed against the Mashona people. One of our pastors and a couple of our people in that area were beaten some weeks ago.

Here in Matabeleland, the activity has been less severe in most areas and not as widespread. In a few cases there have been reports of the people banding together and resisting the oppressors. I can only recall of one actual death in Matabeleland. One of the ladies in our Wednesday night
Bible study reported last evening that there were some beatings in her home area, not very far from Wanezi Mission.

You probably heard that all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were shut down by the government. This worked a tremendous hardship on people. It was primarily the NGOs who were distributing food aid.  Many of them were actually conducting feeding programs for school children, as well as young babies and mothers. NGOs also brought in the ARVs for those suffering from AIDS. There was a great outcry. I suppose the ruling party realized that this was going to lose a lot of votes and we heard yesterday that the government has partially lifted the ban on NGO activity.  Below is the announcement as we received it.

Harare - The Zimbabwe government has lifted a ban on non-governmental organizations involved in food distribution and AIDS-related issues, the state-run Herald has reported. The newspaper cited acting secretary for welfare Sydney Mhishi as saying the government's suspension of all aid groups earlier this month would not prevent those receiving Aids medication from ‘accessing drugs and therapeutic feeding from clinics and hospitals. Supplementary feeding is a community-based programme, which does not entail community mobilization by NGOs, hence it falls outside those affected by the suspension,’ Mhishi wrote in a letter to NGOs.’

Another thing which increases the suffering of the people is that drugs are no longer readily available. When people who are severely beaten are taken to clinics and hospitals, medical personnel do not have the appropriate medications to treat them. Many have expressed utter frustration at the situation.

There have been some pressures brought to bear on the ruling party by neighboring countries.  Outwardly, this doesn't appear to be having much of a positive effect.  However, yesterday President Mbeki from South Africa met with the president here. I have not heard of any results of that meeting yet. However, I do believe that there will be increased pressure in the coming days to stop the violence. At this stage, the conducting of a free and fair election hardly seems possible. Some observers have already come to the country and have given very damning reports of the situation.

There is increased pressure to scrap the elections and negotiate for the formation of a government of national unity. On the one hand, the opposition has declared they are interested in this only if the present president is not involved. That is a condition which the ruling party is likely to reject. It does appear that there are ongoing negotiations behind the scenes.

We, personally, have not felt threatened and consider our ministry one of encouragement to the church and people at present. There is a lot of prayer being made on behalf of this country.  People believe the God will bring about positive change.