How is Zimbabwe doing

Three years ago the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, was ousted. But the overthrow of the dictator did not lead to the hoped-for democratic change. The church is now at the head of the opposition.

In Zimbabwe, the conflict between government and opposition threatens to escalate. After the military coup against President Robert Mugabe in 2017, there was hope for an economic and political fresh start in the country. But now, three years later, human rights activists are accusing the current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, of the same brutal crackdown on critics as his predecessor.

Life force run out

"I think that the majority of Zimbabweans have no hope. You just have to go out on the streets and pay attention to people's body language. Even young people have run out of vitality," says Tsitsi Dangarembga. The author and film director is one of the victims of the recent wave of arrests by the Zimbabwe government against opposition and critics.

Because she called for reforms, she will have to stand trial in September.

"It doesn't matter who you are. As long as you are not on the side of the government, you are the enemy," says democracy activist Rejoice Ngwenya. He is concerned about the trend that more and more Zimbabweans are longing nostalgically for the Mugabe era. "Democracy has always been in danger. The difference, however, is that Mugabe did not openly use the army to suppress opposition."

According to Ngwenya, things are seething even in Zimbabwe's barracks. It cannot be ruled out that a coup will repeat itself as it did three years ago. "Young soldiers and police officers feel abused. It is very possible that they will rebel against their superiors, who are doing well."

Government ready to fight

Steven Gruzd, political scientist at the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA), sees a "government ready to fight that has lost touch with the people and with reality". Those who contradict are branded as a "terrorist" or "puppet of the West". The sanctions by Europe and the USA against the ruling ZANU-PF would have only "minimal influence" on Zimbabwe's crisis.

Once again, the heated atmosphere in dealing with the country's Catholic bishops was evident. Last week, they dared to take an almost historic step: a pastoral letter distributed on Friday by the Archbishop of Harare, Robert Ndlovu, and six of his co-workers for the first time clearly identifies all of the country's social, political and economic problems - and just as clearly highlights the government's guilt .

Such a sign is important for the population, because the church is held in high regard in Zimbabwean society, says Desire Nzisabira from the Catholic aid organization Misereor. "The people now feel supported and are also mobilizing for the bishops." This could lead to a change, but the church representatives would also put themselves in danger.

Catholic Church so far not a target of reprisals

Unlike the political opposition, the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe has not been the target of reprisals by the government, at least so far. The former ruler Robert Mugabe attended a Jesuit school, where he later worked as a teacher. He was also a frequent guest at the Holy See in Rome. During his reign, the autocrat liked to portray himself as an avowed Catholic.

Only once did a conflict between the President and the then Archbishop of Bulawayo, Puis Alick Ncube, cause major waves.

Presumably bogus testimonies were intended to demonstrate the clergy's relationship with a married woman. Ultimately, Ncube resigned from his position. The bishops then behaved somewhat more cautiously towards Mugabe's government. With the new advance that is now over. "The bishops see that it cannot go on like this. They say that the government is starving the people," said Nzisabira.

But he too fears that the previous sparing of the church could soon be over. Statements such as recently made by Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa, who described Ndlovu as a "vicious" influencer who wanted to divide Zimbabwe for his criticism of the regime, left nothing to be hoped for. "The local church now urgently needs support," emphasizes Nzisabira.