Ex-archbishop Pius Ncube, Opponent of Robert Mugabe, Silenced by Vatican

By Martin Fletcher
The Times

December 7, 2008

One of the most outspoken opponents of Robert Mugabe has been silenced by the Vatican just as the regime in Zimbabwe is at its weakest and his leadership would be most valuable.

Pius Ncube resigned as Archbishop of Bulawayo and left Zimbabwe in September 2007 after he was filmed sleeping with a married woman who was employed by the regime as a “honeytrap”. He returned last month after spending a year in exile in Rome and Britain, but the Roman Catholic Church has forbidden him from making any political statements.

In the first interview he has given since his fall Mr Ncube told The Times that he would obey the Vatican order, but added: “I am very upset about it. I believe in speaking out for the people at a time of distress. This country is in the worst situation - worse than when I left.”

Pius Ncube says that the ban on his political statements has helped the Mugabe regime to silence critics but that he will still share the people?s suffering

He agreed that the gagging order meant that the Mugabe regime had succeeded in neutralising one of its most prominent critics. As archbishop, Mr Ncube repeatedly denounced Mr Mugabe's misrule, championed nonviolent opposition to the Government, and defied death threats.

Now Zimbabwe needs a figure of his stature badly to give voice to the oppressed and galvanise the Opposition. The economy of the country has imploded, millions are without food, cholera is rampant and the regime is struggling to contain rising discontent within the security forces that keep it in power.

Jenni Williams, the leader of the human rights organisation Women of Zimbabwe Arise, said: “We bemoan the silencing of Pius Ncube because his voice was very loud and we still need it. We need as many voices as possible to speak out and hold Mugabe accountable.”

Mr Ncube, 61, fell from grace in July 2007 when the state-controlled media jubilantly published pictures of him in bed with Rosemary Sibanda, a married woman, at his official residence in Bulawayo.

An agent of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) has since confirmed what everyone knew - that the CIO installed a camera in his room and entrapped the archbishop.

“If you are not only outspoken but staunchly against the head of state, surely things can go wrong,” the agent told the Los Angeles Times. “You should be on your guard. When you shoot at someone you can expect them to shoot back.” He said that CIO hardliners crowed for days about the humiliation of Mr Ncube.

Mrs Sibanda died in May, ostensibly from Aids, although some suspect that she was killed by the CIO to ensure her silence. She had become a pariah in Bulawayo.

Mr Ncube left the country insisting that he would “not be silenced by the crude machinations of a wicked regime”. He spent three months in Rome and about nine months in a Franciscan retreat in Godalming, Surrey.

“I was very much traumatised,” he said. At times he suffered from depression because he felt powerless to help his fellow Zimbabweans while their country collapsed. Today he looks older, gaunter and greyer. His former confidence has gone, along with his bishop's robes. He seems nervous and more hesitant, and avoids eye contact.

He will not talk about Mrs Sibanda except to say: “I think she was used.” He said that he was planning to end his “sinful” relationship with her when he was filmed. “Partly I blame myself for those things that were improper, but I also blame the Government because they did it so as to cling to power,” he said.

He believes, however, that he has emerged a better, humbler and more understanding man. He now spends two hours a day in prayer, eats only one meal a day to show solidarity with his starving compatriots and says he is reconciled to his fate.

“In a way God was saying to me ‘position is not the most important thing. You can serve me in other ways besides having a high position in the Church'. Also, for me to be humiliated like that means I am able to share thoroughly in the humiliation of the people of Zimbabwe by a Government that doesn't care for them. It's very painful but it purifies you,” he said.

Although he still has the title of Archbishop Emeritus of Bulawayo, Mr Ncube will soon leave the diocese to become a parish priest elsewhere in Zimbabwe.

The demotion will not be hard, he said: “I was always very much a grassroots person. So often it happens in the priesthood that we are running after status and advantages, privileges and material advantages, but really ... our calling is to be part of the suffering people of God.”

Pius Ncube

1946 Born Pius Alick Mvundla Ncube in Gwanda, Zimbabwe

1973 Ordained as a Roman Catholic priest

1980s Worked in Matabeleland during the Gukurahundi campaign by Robert Mugabe against alleged coup plotters. About 20,000 died in the armed conflict

1998 Became Archbishop of Bulawayo

2005 Called for mass uprising against Mr Mugabe

July 2007 Sued for adultery in an apparent government sex sting

September 2007 Resigned as Archbishop Source: Times archives


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