Roman Catholic bishops marked Easter Sunday with an unprecedented message to President Robert Mugabe to end oppression and leave office through democratic reform or face a mass revolt.
"The confrontation in our country has now reached a flashpoint," said the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference in a pastoral message pinned up at churches throughout the country.
"As the suffering population becomes more insistent, generating more and more pressure through boycotts, strikes, demonstrations and uprisings, the state responds with ever harsher oppression through arrests, detentions, banning orders, beatings and torture," the nine bishops said.
The majority of Zimbabwe's Christians - including Mugabe - are Roman Catholics. Several thousand worshippers who packed the cathedral in Harare - clustered around the notice boards to read the message after morning Mass on Sunday.
Although the Catholic bishops - especially Pius Ncube, the archbishop of the second city of Bulawayo, have criticized the government in the past, the tone of this year's pastoral message was the most strident since independence from Britain in 1980.
In his traditional Easter address from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI singled out Zimbabwe among other troubled countries.
"Zimbabwe is in the grip of a grievous crisis," he said.
The letter, entitled "God Hears the Cries of the Oppressed," likened human and democratic rights abuses under Mugabe to the oppression of biblical pharaohs and Egyptian slave masters.
"Oppression is sin and cannot be compromised with," it said....
The article goes on to say the Bishops are using the example of the Philippines "people power" revolution, where Cardinal Sin and a million Catholics overthrew the Marcos government peacefully.
However, Filipinos had a different history
One: Filipinos have a indentification with Christ crucified, and the willingness to die for their faith and for freedom. Few people except Pinoys remember that 600 000 Filipinos died trying to stop the US from taking over from the Spanish in 1899. Zim has a history of the Ndebele and Mashona uniting to revolt against the early white settlers, and then later their own revolution that put in Mugabe.
Two: Ninoy Acquino was jailed, and then released, but returned even though he knew he might be killed. Much of his "spiritual" power was like Mandella, his transformation in jail from a playboy to a leader. Tsvangarai's beating makes him a possible leader in this way.
Three: There were free elections where Filipinos were willing to vote against Marcos, and those counting the votes got word out they were threatened when they counted these votes. Unlike Zim, there was no famine allowing the government to threaten stopping food aid if they voted wrong.
Four: The Army backed Cory when she was elected. The "EDSA" revolution was when a million mostly Catholic Filipinos came out singing hymns led by Cardinal Sin and a statue of the Virgin of Fatima. Why "EDSA" (a major street)? Because General Ramos (a protestant) decided to back Cory, and Marcos, who lost control of his Manila based Army, brought in soldiers from his own province up north. These soldiers could not arrest Ramos because they would not kill peaceful civilians blocking their way (and the legend is that the Virgin Mary appeared to them and instructed them "do not hurt my children" so they didn't shoot).
Now, most of those involved were Christian (Catholics in the demonstration, Protestants in the Army, and members of an indigenous Catholic breakaway church that backed Marcox).
One could see the Army or Police breaking away to help the peaceful demonstrators, but the presence of youth gangs and rumors of drug induced violence (and I suspect witchcraft induced drug violence) is a wild card. I suspect much of the fear of Mugabe is due to witchcraft, but that is rarely spoken about by Zimbabwean opposition leaders, who rightly know that such claims would be seen as fantasy in the Western press.
Five: In the Philippines, Marcos was a good friend of then President Reagan. Marcos expected Reagan to continue his backing in the election because of his history of Anti communism. However, when a democratic alternative presented itself with Cory and mass demonstrations, Reagan pulled the plug on Marcos, and he had to leave.
Again, in Zimbabwe, the "kingmaker" will not have to be Mbeki of South Africa. Without backing of Mbeki, no "perople power" revolution will succeed.