We had a good meeting at home last week, on Tuesday 6th, in a format rather different from the usual. There were 10 present, including a visitor from Zimbabwe, who led our concluding prayers. He described the steep inflation in Zimbabwe until recently, when the Zimbabwe dollar was replaced by the American dollar as the official currency. There is 90% unemployment. AIDS is rampant. Neither press nor radio is free internally. Farm invasions continue, and the new owners are far from being good stewards of their land. Tobacco production is one-third of what it was. There is little crop rotation. Cattle herds are almost all wiped out. Woodlands are cut away to provide fuel, and game reserves poached. Telephone lines are stolen for their copper content. In the cities, shanty towns are bulldozed. Foreign aid sent through the official channels is often sidelined.
On the other hand, there was much to be positive about. Many people in England raise funds, which are channelled through individuals in Zimbabwe, and used, for instance, to pay for schooling at primary, secondary and tertiary levels and in particular the relatively expensive exam fees, as well as other essentials. In the schools, the children are keen to learn. Committees made up of local women are often best fitted to know those in real need.
The country has gold, platinum and diamond reserves. And power-sharing has brought some improvements. Western democracy may be a long way off, but there is a strong sense of relationship, of family. The country's economy is kept afloat to a great extent by the generosity of its 3m overseas workers, who send hard currency home to their families. Many of these families include children whose parents have died of AIDS, and are being brought up by uncles, aunts and grandparents.
The country's Catholic bishops have spoken out: "God hears the cry of the oppressed!" was the title of a controversial pastoral letter a few years ago. "We are all guilty: we need reconciliation," is the theme of their latest, "God can heal the wounds of the afflicted," issued only on 1st October.
Although there is evidence that the cold season has lengthened over the years, there are as yet no great signs of climate change, as in Kenya. Greening the planet is not a live issue in Zimbabwe. Our visitor quoted the current Oxfam advertising: “People in developing countries aren’t thinking about how climate change will affect them. They already know.”
And although there was little tradition of thrift, there was a culture of sharing. Coming back to England for the first time for a couple of years, he was amazed by the range of goods available on supermarket shelves. "All we have is gift," he said: "Are we programmed to accept as gift, or are we programmed to accumulate possessions, and to go on doing so?"
It was, as I say, not like a normal Christian Ecology Link meeting; but it brought home to me the fundamental reason I belong to CEL: as a response to the need for the planet's resources to be cared for and shared out more fairly.