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Mugabe olive branch for Church in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has assured the Church that it would "continue to get the support of the government", despite recent Government claims on land where a mission hospital is located.

Addressing the 7th Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa, he assured the Church that the current NGO Bill would not affect the Church but regulate activities of Non-Governmental bodies which serve western interests.

"We invite the Church to be part of us," he said.

Brandishing his Rosary beads, he praised the Church as 'a guiding light of our path. Where differences occur, we must talk like brothers and sisters. The bishops are our grandfathers and priests are our fathers."

The speech comes in the context of a dispute over Government claims to church lands, specifically the farm where one of the country's biggest infectious diseases hospitals, Driefontein Mission Hospital is based. The hospital is the main referral centre for tuberculosis patients in Masvingo, parts of Midlands and Mashonaland east provinces.

The government issued a Section 8 order against the farm last Friday. Under the government's Land Acquisition Act, the order is a formal notice on the church to wind up operations and vacate the property within 90 days from the date of issue.

Mr Mugabe said: "We know that early missionaries were given land by Cecil John Rhodes. We did not want to take it back. We want the Church to use it, cultivate crops and feed the children. It is unfortunate that the Church is not utilising the land to its maximum. If you don't use the land, Robert Mugabe and the government will claim it back."

"Our Land reform has brought a more equitable land redistribution." He blamed Western media for demonising Zimbabwe for demanding "what belongs to us."

Pictured: Archbishop Pius Ncube shaking hands with President Mugabe after the meeting, with Bishop Bhasera, president of Zimbabwean Catholic Bishops Conference, at centre.

Zimbabwe: Mugabe pledges support for church (Independent Catholic News 21/10/04)

Zimbabwe: government lays claim to church-run farm (Independent Catholic News 19/10/04)

22 Oct 2004