Students and faculty at the United Methodist university in Zimbabwe held classes as usual Nov. 15 as the military took control of the capital city of Harare and held President Robert Mugabe and his wife under house arrest. United Methodist conference staff reported church members are safe, too. Africa University in Mutare is about a four-hour drive from the capital city of Harare. Munashe Furusa, the university’s vice chancellor, issued a statement stressing that the students and faculty are safe. “We would like to assure you that at the moment students and staff are safe. Lectures at Mutare campus will continue as usual as we continue to monitor the situation,” Furusa said. University staff has “put in place contingency measures to manage the situation,” he noted. “Out of an abundance of caution, we are provisionally suspending lectures at the Harare (capital city) campus in view of the safety and security alert for the city,” Furusa said.
James Salley, associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement for the university, said the executive committee met on Nov. 14 after getting word of the events in Zimbabwe. The university celebrated its 25th anniversary in March 2017. “The university is fine, classes were held all day and it’s business as usual,” Salley told United Methodist News Service. “There is not a situation where people are fighting in the street, although it appears that the government is changing.”
The military has said that it did not stage a takeover but was starting a process to restore Zimbabwe’s democracy. The 93-year-old Mugabe, a liberation leader who has ruled Zimbabwe for nearly four decades, was under house arrest with his wife, Grace. Mugabe recently tried to position his 52-year-old wife as his successor, according to the New York Times. The military also took over the state broadcaster, ZBC.
There are about 154,000 United Methodists in Zimbabwe, with some 600 churches and 455 clergy, according to 2016 figures from the General Council of Finance and Administration.Zimbabwe Area Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa, who is out of the country, said he had spoken with his deputy administrative assistant, who said the situation in Zimbabwe is calm and people are going on with their daily routine. He said nothing has disturbed the activities of the church. “In our schools and hospitals throughout the country, work is going on as usual. This is true for all churches and the government institutions as well,” the bishop said. “No loss of life has been reported anywhere. We pray and thank God for guiding the leaders and the people of Zimbabwe to maintain peace.”
Rebecca Tendai Gurupira, who is based at the Zimbabwe West Conference office, told UMNS that all church members were reported to be “very safe.”Other United Methodists reported that people were mostly staying home following reports of the military action.
The Rev. Tauri Emmanuel Maforo, pastor of St. Dorcas United Methodist Church in Harare, was holding a mid-week prayer service dedicated to praying for the country and the political situation.
Maforo said the church prayed for peace and prosperity in Zimbabwe. “Relationships, trust and nationhood needs urgent healing. We pray therefore in Jesus’ mighty name for peaceful resolution of the current impasse. We pray that the God of peace sends peace to the hearts of all caught up in the middle of these complexities,” Mafaro said in his sermon.
Solomon Nyamundaya of St. Peters United Methodist Church said the situation in Harare was “tense, very tense.“Our offices are near Parliament building and the army ordered us to evacuate at 10 o'clock in the morning. I then returned home," he said.
The Rev. Austern Chepiri, a member of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area Board of Trustees, said he drove through Harare.“It was tense but peaceful. There was a heavy military presence at all strategic buildings, like Parliament and government offices," he said.
The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries also is monitoring “the unfolding situation in Zimbabwe,” said Thomas Kemper, top executive, in a statement.
The mission agency has heard from nearly all of its community of missionaries and personnel with the United Methodist Committee on Relief in Zimbabwe, who are “safe at this moment,” the statement said.
“We are very thankful that no bloodshed has been reported in the current contention between President Robert Mugabe and the armed force. May that continue to be the case.
“We at Global Ministries pray for a peaceful outcome to contending political agendas and that Zimbabwe will emerge with a strong democratic framework in which all citizens may participate without fear, intimidation or reprisals,” the statement said. “We also pray for a future with a stable political and economic foundation.”
By Vicki Brown