JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - During his Sunday sermons at St. Mary's Cathedral in Zimbabwe, Archbishop Pius Ncube offers terrifying accounts of the state-sponsored torture, beatings, rape and starvation that he says have become the reality of daily life under President Robert Mugabe's regime.
When the Australian cricket team played Zimbabwe in a World Cup Cricket
match last year, Ncube led a demonstration of banner-carrying clergymen onto
the grounds protesting Zimbabwe's government.
Traveling abroad, the archbishop has urged U.S. Secretary of State Colin L.
Powell and other leaders to bring Mugabe's government to heel through economic
sanctions or - better yet, he says - shutting off Zimbabwe's electricity
supply from South Africa.
In a country where most people are cowed into silence, the 57-year-old
archbishop is the leading and often lone voice of defiance against the
political and economic turmoil that is causing Zimbabwe, he says, to "fall to
For his exploits, however, the Roman Catholic leader pays a price.
His phones are tapped. He has received numerous death threats. Secret
police follow him everywhere, watching him from the pews of his cathedral and
demanding he restrict his comments to spiritual matters.
In the state-run media, he is regularly slandered as an enemy of the state.
Among the accusations made against him are that he has raped nuns and
encouraged homosexual acts in state prisons.
President Mugabe, a Catholic, recently labeled the archbishop a "liar" and
Such challenges only make the archbishop speak louder. "I'm not backing
down on this. Why must the people of Zimbabwe suffer because Mugabe is driving
for power at all costs? I'm not going to give in," Ncube said during an
interview last week in South Africa, where he is on a speaking tour
highlighting human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
In person, Ncube hardly measures up to the imposing human rights figures
such as Nelson Mandela or Archbishop Desmond Tutu to whom he looks for
inspiration. His face shows fatigue, his gray suit is rumpled, his eyes are
hidden behind smudged black-rimmed glasses. His voice is light and somewhat
raspy, comforting for consoling the sick and poor, but seemingly too weak to
threaten Mugabe's government.
Yet, it is not so much his personality or the forcefulness of his voice
that has made him Zimbabwe's top human rights campaigner; it what he is
willing to say.
"He is fearless and completely committed to the interests of the people. He
does not mince his words at all," says John Makumbe, a professor of political
science at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare.
Ncube first came into prominence in 2000, when Mugabe began seizing
white-owned farmland to hand to landless black peasants. Ncube did not
hesitate to condemn the land invasions, which often turned violent and led to
several killings of farmers.
While most clergy were afraid to speak out, Ncube openly condemned the
political violence that defined parliamentary elections in 2000 and the
presidential elections in 2002, accusing Mugabe of stealing the election by
Now, as Zimbabwe's economy collapses, hunger spreads and political tension
deepens, Zimbabweans are looking to Ncube as perhaps the one man who might
offer them help.
But during his visit to South Africa, Ncube gave a gloomy forecast for his
country. Violence, intimidation and vote rigging will disrupt the
parliamentary elections scheduled for March, he says.
"Youth militia go out to the villages intimidating people, saying if we
don't win, we are going to come back and burn your home," he says.
Mugabe's government, he says, has stifled political discourse by shutting
down the country's independent newspapers and passing laws that restrict the
opposition party's ability to hold meetings.
"You are dealing here with very deceitful people, and there's no way you
can have free and fair elections," said Ncube.
From The Sun's Archive
Archbishop won't be silenced
Zimbabwe: Neither intimidation nor bribery keeps Pius Ncube from calling the world's attention to the crimes of the Mugabe regime.
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