More than 15.9 million Australians voted in the September federal elections. As the results were announced Australians either celebrated, were disappointed or were simply indifferent.
The one thing we all shared on election day was the right to vote and the freedom to engage in a transparent and peaceful (although at times fiery) democratic process. Countless nations around the globe have denied citizens this right in their history; China, Burma (Myanmar), North and South Korea, Nigeria, Cambodia, Iraq, Iran… the list is comprehensive and covers northern, southern, eastern and western corners of the globe.
Among the scars of a history jaded with human rights abuses and violence, hope does blossom. Zimbabwe is a prime example. This southern African nation is fighting for the freedom to choose their leaders and a fair and just system of government.
At the centre of this push for democratic freedom are grassroots community groups, engrained in local culture and practice. Among them is the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC). Act for Peace, the International aid agency of the National Council of Churches Australia, works in partnership with the ZCC confronting injustice and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
The ZCC is a fellowship of Christian Churches and organisations that seeks to inspire members to engage in a sustained effort to eliminate poverty and move towards self-reliance and sustainable development.
The ZCC was formed in 1964 and along with the people of Zimbabwe has felt with full force the tumultuous history of the nation.
So what role does the Zimbabwe Council of Churches play in the fight for democracy in Zimbabwe?
Since 1999, election campaigns have been fraught with violence. Opposition supporters and the international community made claims of corruption on many occasions.
It was at this point that Act for Peace and the ZCC saw an opportunity to help the people of Zimbabwe confront injustice. Although struggling with financial ruin and hardship in a country marred by political violence and economic destitution the ZCC, with the help of Act for Peace, saw its people in need and played an active peace-making role during political instability.
Representing 26 denominations and countless churches across the nation, the ZCC rallied the community during the most recent elections in July 2013 campaigning for non-violence, transparency, peace and tolerance.
This was a hard task considering the lingering scars of the deaths and violence of the 2008 elections, but ZCC continued to urge Zimbabweans to set aside denominational and personal differences as the country embarked on the election period.
The ZCC played a critical role in reducing tensions within the community and encouraging unity during a time that had spelled violence and division in the past. In practical terms it took action to prevent violence and encourage democracy.
The July 2013 elections signified another election win for President Robert Mugabe. Once again international bodies, the opposition and opposition supporters claimed the elections were rigged. The one positive step for Zimbabwe was that the elections were carried out without widespread violence and with a degree of tolerance and peace.
The nation of Zimbabwe remains at a cross-road, a decisive moment, commonly called KAIROS in theological terms, when God’s people are faced with making life-changing choices. Such times call for pragmatic reflection.
It is important to recognise the democratic freedom we sometimes take for granted in Australia and help support the worldwide fight against injustice in countries like Zimbabwe who simply want the freedom to choose and the chance to develop. Politically, Zimbabwe remains deeply divided. But every day there are steps being taken by ordinary Zimbabweans and organisations like Act for Peace in Australia to bring the country closer to freedom, equality, peace, justice, tolerance, prosperity and unity.
While political, social and economic freedoms and opportunities are slowly emerging, there appears to be a prevailing caution and concern surrounding how the country will emerge through this critical period of national development.
Act for Peace continues to provide support for the ZCC ecumenical accompaniment program and aims to develop effective leadership within Zimbabwe churches. We believe in confronting injustice and will continue to support the ZCC as Zimbabwe fights for its democratic freedoms.
By Karen McGrath
Media and Communications Coordinator, Act for Peace
Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches Australia supports the ZCC in an ecumenical accompaniment program aimed at encouraging greater stewardship of the church in tackling issues including the constitutional reform process, forthcoming elections and national healing. To support Act for Peace or for more information www.actforpeace.org.au