The church had a role in past wrongs. Now it must help the healing
Anglican Bishop Rubin Phillip tells Times Select about his role as an SADC election observer and his faith in Zimbabweans' resilience
Zimbabweans have faced “years of oppression and suffering”, and the upcoming national election – the first vote not to feature ousted former president Robert Mugabe since he came to power in 1980 – is a chance for the country’s citizens to regain their sense of dignity.
This is according to anti-apartheid activist and religious leader Bishop Rubin Phillip, one of eight South Africans hand-picked by the Southern African Development Community to be a part of the SADC eminent persons observer mission ahead of the southern African country's much anticipated general elections.
As the population gets ready to cast their votes, Phillip has called on Zimbabwe’s churches to mobilise – for the short-term and into the future as the country begins to recover.He said: “The church has an even bigger role to play in terms of the renewal and the building up of Zimbabwe’s society which, after all these years of oppression and suffering, has really eroded their sense of dignity and self-worth.”
Phillip has long been involved in Zimbabwe’s liberation movement, making him an obvious choice to be a part of the SADC team. For the last 15 years, he has been extensively involved in the Solidarity Peace Trust, a non-governmental organisation that exposed gross human rights violations in the country.
His role during the election will be to visit different polling stations across the country to make sure they will be able to deliver free and fair elections, as well as report any irregularities they come across.
Although hopeful about what the future will hold for the country, Phillip is acutely aware of the long political journey it still has to follow – and the challenges to be faced – after the elections.
“The political situation isn’t going to settle immediately … Things aren’t going to be perfect, they never are. But it’s the beginning, and the seed will be sown and the big job is to water the ground and remove the weeds.“There are going to be lots of weeds in this planting of a new and fresh democracy because they never really had democracy under Mugabe,” he said during an exclusive interview with Times Select.
The bishop believes that Mugabe’s peaceful removal from power is a perfect example of the resilient spirit of Zimbabweans and their “ability to free themselves”.
Phillip, completely coincidentally, was in Zimbabwe on the day Mugabe was removed from power.
Reminiscing about that fateful date, he said: “It was amazing. We danced on the streets of Bulawayo. I had never experienced anything like that.”
He said he was looking forward to celebrating with the people of Zimbabwe once more – after the elections.
The bishop and the 63-member SADC team‚ led by Angola’s secretary of state in the external relations ministry‚ Tete Antonio‚ will be in Zimbabwe observing the election over the course of a week.
Speaking about his long history of activism in Zimbabwe, he said: “What was important for me was to help mobilise the churches, because one of the strategies of the Mugabe regime was to co-opt the churches by giving them land and other things. We need to ask ourselves: ‘What is our role as churches in the fight for freedom?’ ”
Rubin believes that the time has once again come for the churches to ask themselves that important question as the country moves into a new future.