Advanced search Click here for the website of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

This is an archived website containing material relating to Dr Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended on 31st December 2012

Skip Content

Interview with Radio 4 'Sunday Programme' on Zimbabwe

Sunday 1st June 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams spoke to Radio 4's 'Sunday Programme' about reports of the deteriorating situation for the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe and the joint statement he issued with the Archbishop of Cape Town.

The Archbishop was interviewed by Ed Stourton.  A full transcript follows.

First of all, how grave is the situation as you understand it?

I think in the last two weeks it has really got quite a bit more serious. We've heard news of one congregation being actively disrupted, violently disrupted; a Mothers' Union meeting being broken up with violence. We have also heard of the continuing barricading of Churches against the legitimate congregations there by, one supposes, government backed forces and I spoke earlier in the week to a couple of Bishops in the region and it is very clear that the situation has deteriorated for the Church, the Anglican Church, very very, sharply in the last couple of weeks and they are very eager that we should let people know that this is happening.

And you framed your request in terms of individuals being wrenched away from the altar rail, it's that bad?

Well that's what we hear - that is what we hear. And certainly the breaking up of the Mother's Union meeting that I refer too had that element to it and there was physical violence involved and I know it's only in the sense of a tip of an iceberg in Zimbabwe at the moment, this is what great swathes of the population are enduring and of course political activists have been threatened and killed in recent weeks so we are simply trying to turn the spotlight on one aspect of a much bigger problem.

Is there anything that the Anglican Communion, either in Africa or worldwide, here in Britain, can actually do?

The Bishops in Zimbabwe are now of course appealing for rather louder support from elsewhere and that is of course where the Church in South Africa has been and continues to be very important; that is why I contacted this week the Archbishop of Cape Town to see if he and I could speak together on this and because he is there in the region and because his predecessor and he himself have been very active in keeping peoples' attention focussed on the Zimbabwe situation. Now it would be good also, if some of the other African Primates could weigh in on this because it is so easy for it to be represented as just a colonial matter, as President Mugabe is eager to do, but it is of the greatest importance to the people in the region and the continent say what they have to say about this.

Mr Mugabe is a Christian, do you realistically and does your office have any religious/spiritual or moral leverage with him?

The problem is of course that coming from a Church, which in his mind is clearly associated with the colonial past, there is very little moral leverage that any of us have which is why direct appeals to President Mugabe are most unlikely to produce any results from here and why the Archbishop of Cape Town and myself decided it was better to speak directly to the Secretary General of the U.N.

In the past you must have had meeting behind the scenes as it were, is there anything you can tell me about the tone of some of those meetings? Has it been made clear to you that you are interfering for example?

I think for the last, well all the time I have been here in office, five years or more such contacts we have had with the Zimbabwean government and its supporters have been uniformly negative in response because of course we are colonial interferers and therefore not to be listened to.

So, if Mr Mugabe continues not to listen, what else can you do?

One of the things we have been pushing to the U.N. and the neighbouring countries involved in the region is furthering the idea that a number of Christian leaders and others have been pressing that there should be a high level mediator appointed by the United Nations, a figure like the former Secretary General, someone who has no obvious political agenda in the region and who has credibility in the wider African community and although that isn't a magic formula to solve everything its an admissible fact that there is some sort of process of assessment of what is going on backed by the UN and backed by regional alliances and I think that is the next step to press for, that is what we are very strongly urging.

And what response have you had so far from the United Nations?

Well, as we will expect the Secretary General can't give commitments about that. There will be I think further examination of that idea, I know there are some meetings coming up in the next seven days in which we will be looking at this again – so we wait and see.

Doesn't a situation like this show the limitations of Christians' idea of turning the other cheek?

The trouble is, isn't it, that turning the other cheek has always been taken to be purely passive. I think turning the other cheek can include finding effective non violent ways of resistance - effective ways of subverting tyranny without just reproducing violence. That I know our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe are trying to do at the moment with enormous courage and integrity.

But even Ghandi who came up with the idea of passive resistance said there were certain forces against which he would not prevail. He said he would prevail against the British because they were fair minded even if they were oppressive but not against the Nazi tyranny for example. What is you reading of how effective it is likely to be against Mr Mugabe and his government?

I don't know frankly but I do know that any turning further of the spiral of violence in Zimbabwe is not in anybodies interest. It is already a country with a wrecked economy, with a wrecked infrastructure, with huge suffering, hunger and disease and the last thing they want is a war; so that is why we have to put all the pressure we can on non violent resolution.

Is there any sense in which he is right and that the Anglican Church there, the ordinary believers, are aligned with the movement for Democratic Change and against him?

I don't think that there is any political alignment there and I think the Bishops there would say very strongly that they are not partisan about this, that they have got no blueprint for how things ought to change. They're trying to preserve the integrity of their Church and their freedom as a Church to meet for worship. Now the Church locally has decided that the former Bishop of Harare was not acceptable, and I think that was the right judgement and one that I immediately endorsed, and they have established in the courts their right to meet and to worship and to use Anglican Churches in Harare Diocese. Now that becomes a matter of basic liberties, a basic, guaranteed charter of human rights and liberties – the freedom of belief and freedom of association. So what they are standing for at the moment, as of course many other protestors are, is not a party political program but basic human rights.

So how hopeful are you that this Sunday, for example, things are improving?

I'll be very interested to hear what happens in the Churches this Sunday and we have people there who we are regularly in touch with who tell us, almost daily, what is going on. Hopeful, well I have to contend to be hopeful but the overall scene doesn't offer me much encouragement, hence I think the urgency of the appeal we have been making and others will be making too.

Back · Back to top