Mugabe takes on Catholics


President Robert Mugabe urged the church to engage in dialogue with the government and not to go to “outside authorities- Blairs and Bushes” and upbraided Bulawayo Archbishop Pius Ncube for tarnishing Zimbabwe’s image abroad.

Mugabe was speaking at the installation of the Catholic Archbishop of Harare Robert Christopher Ndlovu.

He stressed moral themes and shared government and church missions and asserted that the government and the church agreed on human rights and civil rights — “of course, everybody agrees on these things.”

Mugabe claimed Archbishop Ncube did not show up for a meeting that he sought with the President the day before and asked him rhetorically “where are the 10 000 dead from hunger” claimed by regime critics?


Full cable:



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Reference ID






2004-08-23 15:28

2011-08-30 01:44


Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.


231528Z Aug 04

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 001417










E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/23/2009






Classified By: Political Officer Win Dayton under Section 1.5 b/d


1. (U) SUMMARY: At the August 21 installation of the new

Archbishop of Harare, President Mugabe stressed the need for

Church and state to work with each other on issues of shared

responsibility, including human rights and education. He

invited the new Archbishop to work with him but blasted

Catholic clerics who he said worked with foreign powers

against the GOZ. The new Archbishop presided over the mass

and stressed human rights in a brief public address. END



2. (U) The Ambassador was among an audience of thousands who

attended the installation of Robert Christopher Ndlovu as

Roman Catholic Archbishop of Harare at the capacity-filled

Harare Sports Center. In a brief address, Ndlovu addressed

principally pastoral issues but affirmed the church’s role in

standing up for human dignity, from which flowed human

rights. He added that freedom of speech and freedom of

association were the bases of legitimacy for any authority.

During the first half hour of the four hour program, a

military jet loudly buzzed the covered complex five times at

low altitude.


3. (U) Also in attendance were Catholic President Mugabe and

the First Lady, seated in the first row just in front of the

Ambassador. After the introduction of dozens of bishops and

church officials, each of which drew cheers and applause from

the crowd, Mugabe was introduced to dead silence. He and

First Lady Grace were later called to the stage, where they

stiffly shook the smiling Archbishop’s hand without

significant verbal exchange before returning to their seats.

The Archbishop later gave communion to the pair at the outset

of the mass.


4. (U) Just before the program’s close, the President, to

considerable applause, was called to the podium to address

the multitude. Speaking in Shona for roughly the first half

of a 15-20 minute address, Mugabe drew substantial laughs and

applause from the entire assembly. (Embassy is still seeking

a readout on the remarks in Shona). In English, the

President stressed moral themes and shared GOZ and Church

missions. He asserted that the GOZ and the Church agreed on

human rights and civil rights — “of course, everybody agrees

on these things.” He went on to recount a litany of

“colonial era” injustices and urged the Church to reflect on

the implications of Zimbabwe’s unique colonial experience,

which he said impelled government regulation of certain

exercises of freedom of speech and association. Conceding

differences on some of these issues, he urged the Church to

engage in dialogue with the Government, and not to go to

“outside authorities — Blairs and Bushes.” He upbraided

Pius Ncube, the outspoken Archbishop of Bulawayo, for

tarnishing Zimbabwe’s image abroad. He claimed Ncube did not

show up for a meeting Ncube sought with the President the day

before and asked him rhetorically “where are the 10,000 dead

from hunger” claimed by regime critics? Mugabe also

criticized the Jesuits for not complying with tuition fee

caps imposed by the Ministry of Education.


5. (U) Recalling his open communication with Ndlovu’s

predecessor, Archbishop Chakaipa, Mugabe urged Ndlovu to work

with him; he could phone any time. “You haven’t come into a

den of wolves … we want to be with the Church.” In

conclusion, he thanked the Pope for naming Ndlovu to the

position. Alluding to state media criticism of the

appointment, Mugabe said “the Pope decided and we, as

Christians, accepted.”


6. (C) In a visit to the Embassy earlier this month, Ndlovu

recounted to the Ambassador his strained relationship with

the GOZ over the years. He reported that the GOZ was taking

a “wait and see” attitude on his appointment notwithstanding

some adverse reporting in the state media; nobody from the

GOZ had visited him since his appointment was announced. His

Hwange diocese had worked with the the GOZ on food, water and

other social issues, but had run into problems over finances

over water provision to a local primary school, ostensibly

over exchange rate difficulties. He described ongoing

efforts by the GOZ to get into the Church’s financial books

and noted that the NGO bill (septel) was on the Council of

Bishops’ agenda. Ndlovu had negotiated a solution a year ago

to a months-long standoff in which ZANU-PF had been blocking

Church-run food relief. Church-State tensions were a

significant concern, and he planned to keep politically

oriented organs such as CCJP focused on community efforts

rather than anti-government activities. He appeared quite

sensitive to the level of state repression throughout the

country, particularly in rural areas that were obscured from

public view. Ndlovu expressed interest in building up the

capabilities of the deteriorated Catholic University,

especially as tertiary education continued to collapse around

the country. Bio notes on the 48-year old Ndebele Archbishop

will be forwarded separately.


7. (C) COMMENT: As democratic space in Zimbabwe continues to

shrink, churches may increasingly become venues for dissent

against the regime. The GOZ has arrested numerous clerics

and representatives from a variety of churches in recent

years, usually in connection with public demonstrations. We

understand that an Irish priest serving the parish of Defense

Minister Sekeremayi and Justice Minister Chinamasa was

recently sent packing when his pulpit critiques of the regime

became too direct. Nonetheless, the GOZ generally has tread

carefully in its confrontations with organized religion to

date. Indeed, Mugabe’s remarks at the installation were more

haranguing than threatening in tone and carried an explicit

invitation to dialogue, even if the roaring jet engines

served to remind everybody who holds the secular trappings of

authority. Most Zimbabwean Catholics we polled agreed that

Mugabe’s remarks were inappropriate for the venue.


8. (C) COMMENT(CONT’D): The volume, harmony, and spontaneity

of the assembled throng’s Shona hymns throughout the

installation contrasted sharply with the tepid, poorly

orchestrated chanting of Mugabe’s large ruling party

gatherings. Mugabe tapped his finger to the music and

occasionally clapped as Grace sat stone-faced throughout. We

did not observe a word spoken between the two.



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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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