Prayers for Zimbabwe after election violence

Supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party block a street on Aug 1 in Harare, Zimbabwe. In the wake of soldiers opening fire on the protesters, United Methodist bishops and other church leaders called for prayers for peace. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko. Do not reuse. One Time Use.
Supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party block a street on Aug 1 in Harare, Zimbabwe. In the wake of soldiers opening fire on the protesters, United Methodist bishops and other church leaders called for prayers for peace. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko.

United Methodist bishops and other church leaders are calling for prayers for peace in Zimbabwe following deadly election-related violence.

Meanwhile, students and staff at United Methodist Africa University are safe, say school officials.

At least three people were killed Aug. 1 in Harare, the nation’s capital, when soldiers opened fire on demonstrators who claimed this week’s presidential and parliamentary elections were rigged.

The crackdown came amid hopes that Zimbabwe would find a new path after last year’s removal of President Robert Mugabe, who for 37 years led what many called “a government of tyranny.”

The United Methodist Council of Bishops called for prayers and appealed for calm.

“We join with international observers in their commendation of the great majority of people of Zimbabwe in their maturity amidst this historic election,” said the statement signed by Florida Area Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, Council of Bishops president, and Zimbabwe Area Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa.

“We appeal also for calmness in the midst of great anxiety, and we condemn all forms of violence as the country awaits the full results of the election. We grieve the deaths of those who have participated in this democratic process.”

The bishops also commended the faithfulness of the Zimbabwean people. The country is home to more than 138,500 United Methodist professing members and more than 400 clergy, according to the most recent data reported to the General Council on Finance and Administration.

Also dotting the landscape are United Methodist mission centers, clinics, hospitals and schools. Best known among those ministries is Africa University, which the bishops called one of the denomination’s “crown jewels” in education.

The pan-African University stands in rural Old Mutare, more than a three-hour drive from Harare where the violence occurred.  

Munashe Furusa, the university’s vice chancellor, and Bishop Marcus Matthews, its board chair, said in a statement that university leaders are monitoring the situation and making contingency plans as needed.

“The Africa University campus community is looking forward to another robust, exciting and impactful year of teaching, research and community service,” the university leaders said.

As a new academic year gets underway, Aug. 2 was a regular workday on campus, said James Salley, the university’s associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement.

“The university is safe,” he said, “and today has been business as usual.”

Salley added that staff have been transporting students from the Harare airport without incident. The airport is located on the outskirts of the capital city — miles from the city’s center where protests have occurred.

During the 2017-18 academic year, Africa University had a total of 1,970 students. While students came from some 28 countries on the continent, about 70 percent were from Zimbabwe.

Africa University leaders joined the bishops in praying for peace.

Zimbabwe’s electoral commission said it planned to announce presidential election results later today, according to news reports. The protests by supporters of the opposition party erupted after the announcement that the party in power, ZANU-PF, had won parliamentary elections.

In this uncertain time, the bishops appealed to God’s guidance.

“As brothers and sisters in Christ who share in the Cross and the Flame,” the bishops said, “we call upon the name of Jesus Christ, who is our peace (Ephesians 2), and we search for the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5) in these events.”

Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests

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