does not fear many people. But a frail,
bumbling, softly spoken former goat-herd has become a huge thorn in the side of
the Zimbabwean leader.
Pius Ncube, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city,
regularly denounces Mugabe. If his words were uttered by anyone else, beatings,
torture, imprisonment and even death could be the outcome.
Ncube castigates Mugabe as a fascist, a fraudster, a liar and a godless
murderer. On the eve of being presented with the Robert Burns International
Humanitarian Award in Scotland, the archbishop is still uncompromising in his
He tells the Sunday Herald: “We’re all praying that the Lord will soon take
Mugabe away. Everyone is fed up with him, including his own [ruling Zanu PF
party] people. We’re all hoping against hope that something will happen. He’s a
very, very evil man. The sooner he dies the better.”
Archbishop Ncube who, at 58, is 24 years younger than Mugabe, drives the
president apoplectic with rage. It’s one of the great traditions of African
society that the young must respect their elders. Ncube routinely ignores this
In return, Ncube says he has been denounced by the president as an
HIV-positive homosexual who has raped and impregnated nuns. Mugabe has also
accused him of “Satanic betrayal” for campaigning against English cricket tours
The president repeatedly accuses the archbishop of working with Tony Blair to
overthrow him. Ncube shrugs this off. He feels that the more international
leaders who condemn Mugabe the better.
His advice for the British Prime Minister is: “Simply say to Mugabe, ‘Look
after your people. Your people are starving. Your people have no jobs. Your
people cannot afford housing. Three million Zimbabweans, 20% of the population,
have fled the country. It’s all because of you. It’s all your fault. Stop
blaming other people.’”
Interrupting his study of A Man’s A Man For A’ That – the only Robert Burns
poem he had heard of before being told of his award in the Scots poet’s name –
Ncube took time to reflect on what Jesus might say if he was an itinerant
preacher in Zimbabwe today. “Because Christ was God-centred and compassionate,
he would condemn the way the government uses every opportunity to oppress the
people,” he says.
“I think he would condemn especially the use by Mugabe of food for political
purposes.” This is a reference to Mugabe’s ploy in last March’s election of
offering food to coerce starving villagers into voting Zanu PF.
“Christ would condemn the violence, [widespread rape] and torture by
government agencies and the youth militia,” he says.
The archbishop is particularly distressed by the 50,000-strong National Youth
Militia, Mugabe’s personal storm troopers who have been compared to Hitler’s
Brownshirts, a group that spearheaded early Nazi attacks on Germany’s Jewish
population. The Youth Militia, known as the Green Bombers for their bottle green
uniforms, chant slogans in praise of Mugabe on parade and end with denunciations
of Blair. Ncube says Mugabe had brainwashed young people in the Green Bomber
“They specialise in violence,” says the archbishop. “This is killing off the
souls of young people.”
Ncube recently accompanied a 19-year-old Green Bomber deserter, who gave his
name only as Wesley, to safety in Johannesburg. With the archbishop standing
next to him, Wesley described to reporters how he and around 100 other Green
Bombers, high on marijuana and beer, attacked a white-owned farm near Beit
Bridge in southern Zimbabwe.
“We surrounded the farm and after entering the house we tortured him [the
farmer],” says Wesley. “After that his wife was raped and we raped his
daughters. They were seven and twelve and the small one was around four years
The Green Bombers, armed with AK-47 rifles, then locked the family inside the
house and lobbed petrol bombs through windows. “The family didn’t survive,” says
Wesley. “We burned them all. I feel terrible for the things I have done.”
Ncube says: “I don’t think Christ would have survived in Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s
government doesn’t like people who speak the truth. Plenty of people [who
criticise the government] have died mysteriously. Christ wouldn’t have had a
Which raises the question of why the archbishop is still alive and was able
to travel to Scotland freely to receive his award on Friday night.
Ncube says there have been many plans for his assassination. Agents of
Mugabe’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), who permeate every aspect of
Zimbabwean life, have threatened: “We can kill you and bury you in a shallow
Ncube adds: “But I have also been tipped off by people in state intelligence
who have cautioned me, ‘Don’t move here, there. Don’t move at night, don’t move
alone. CIO agents follow me everywhere and they sit in the pews at all my
The archbishop believes he has also been protected as a result of direct
warnings from the late Pope John Paul II to Mugabe.
Ncube mainly preaches at his base, Bulawayo’s magnificent St Mary’s
Cathedral, where Ncube has lined the walls with posters not only of traditional
Christian saints but also of modern civil rights heroes such as Nelson Mandela,
El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and
Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Turning to Zimbabwe’s immediate problems, the archbishop says the greatest
need was for Western democracies to donate food in great quantities before
hundreds of thousands of people die in coming months from starvation.
Although Mugabe told the West before the March election not to foist food on
Zim babweans, he is now sending out subtle messages that the country is broke
and needs emergency food aid.
The archbishop listened to an argument that sending food now would only
prolong Mugabe’s reign, but responds: “The West will fail, even though it’s not
really its responsibility to feed the Zimbabwean people, if it declines to give
“If the food is refused, the people will just die quietly because at the
moment they have no effective leader against Mugabe. I believe a refusal will
mean the common people suffer, not Mugabe.”
Ncube reveals he had changed his mind about his appeal earlier this year for
the people to launch a Ukrainian-style Orange Revolution to overthrow Mugabe.
“I have to admit that the people are so oppressed and full of fear that
there’s no possibility of an uprising,” he says.
“If it happened now now, it would be worse than Uzbekistan. They would be
shot. People are so desperate they just don’t know where to turn. The Movement
for Democratic Change just want the ordinary people to lead the revolution
without making any sacrifice themselves.
“People are in neutral until some new leader strikes a chord. Meanwhile,
we’re all being held to ransom by one despot. So that’s why we’re hoping he’ll
evacuate this earth.”
22 May 2005