Exclusive by John Carey Top churchmen from Rhodesia have met with Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe, the joint leaders of the Patriotic Front, to discuss ways of bringing an end to the escalating guerilla war.
The meetings, which took place in Lusaka. Zambia last month, involved three members of the Rhodesian Bishops Conference — two bishops and one priest — and three from the Rhodesian Justice and Peace Commission. They were set up
on the Commission's initiative, and were very successful according to John Deary, its chairman, who arrived in London for a week's visit on Tuesday.
The six man delegation had talks with Nkomo on August 14 and 15 and with Mugabe on August 19. Subsequent meetings have also been held with Bishop Abel Muzorewa. and Chief Jeremiah Chirau of the internal government and Mr Deary stressed that the intention had always been to talk with all the leaders involved rather than with one particular faction. They were hoping to see Mr Ian Smith the Rhodesian Premier and Rev Ndabaningi Sithole. another member of the internal government, as well.
He added that more meetings would probably be held soon.
He said that the object of the meetings had been two-fold: to draw attention to the suffering in the country and to take a look at Church-State relations in the future. It was not, as had been suggested, merely to discuss allegations of the murder of missionaries by guerrillas.
Claiming that the talks with
the Patriotic Front had been "very constructive", Mr Deary said: "In both cases the atmosphere was extremely cordial and the representatives had a very frank exchange of views. Both men asked that their views be communicated to the internal leaders and they also sought our assistance in the problem of refugees, which is extremely serious."
He added that the two men had been united on all major questions.
While in Zambia, the delegation saw three refugee camps, one for boys, one for girls and one for mothers and children and Mr Deary said that they had been very impressed by what they saw. "There was no question of any military training or of Marxist indoctrination." he said.
The recent shooting down of a civilian aeroplane and the subsequent massacre of ten survivors had hardened white opinion to "an unprecedented level". "It is at a level which I would not have believed possible. Even among some church leaders there has been a tendency to talk in terms of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth — which is something that I find appalling," he said.
He described the current situation in the country as "harrowing" with the daily death toll running at about 100 — far more than official communiques were suggesting. Private armies. owing their allegiance to one or other of the internal black leaders, were now operating extensively in the rural areas as well as government security forces and guerrillas.
Commenting on suggestions that Nkomo and Mugabe had lost control of their forces on the ground. Mr Deary said: "I would say that they have a fair degree of control given the lack of a sophisticated communications network and given the tendency for banditry that occurs in any guerrilla war."
Mr Deary said that during the meetings both the guerilla leaders had given assurances that the Church would be able to continue functioning in a Zimbabwe under their control although it would probably be in a different way. The Church would lose some of its control over and identification with institutions such as schools or hospitals which would probably be mainly taken over by the State. But it would be more closely identified with people instead, he said.