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Zimbabwe Appeal - BBC interview transcript

Wednesday 25th February 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, spoke with Robert Pigott, BBC Religious Affairs correspondent to launch their joint Zimbabwe appeal.

The full text of the interview follows:

Interviewer: First of all, Archbishop Rowan Williams, how bad would you describe the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe as being now?

ABC: I think the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe is now at an appalling level. It's estimated that perhaps half the population is now under threat of starvation; and the deaths from cholera have been climbing in just the last couple of weeks from 3,000 towards 4,000. Everyone knows about the rate of inflation, but I think the main thing is the sheer level at which people are at risk of starvation.

Interviewer: There must be some appalling stories coming to you both out of Zimbabwe.

ABC: Very directly, yes, and of course the problem of starvation is compounded by the problem of the lack of clean water and safe water supplies, that's something to do with cholera as well. So, yes, the stories are come in at a very alarming level.

Interviewer: You warned almost a year ago now of a spiral of political violence, a 'meltdown' I think were the words you used, is that being borne out by what's happened since?

ABY: I think that's quite obvious, everybody hoped, of course by March of last year, we would have accepted the result and the Prime Minister's meeting in Alexandria actually called on him to recognise the rightness of that particular decision and actually step down. But what we're doing today is to try to say to the people in Britain, throughout the rest of the Anglican Communion throughout the world, that there is gigantic difficulty at the moment in that country. The thing which tells you that it is so bad, is that Zimbabwe is a very proud nation that it is now accepting using foreign currency for its own currency, and has abandoned Zimbabwean dollars.

We need to remember those who are hungry and who are starving. And I have got a letter from a priest writing from the Bulawayo area saying he opened the door and there was seven bodies found there, died from starvation - that's terrible, to die of starvation because we haven't got enough food left.

ABC: I think one of the problems is that the opposition in Zimbabwe is in a cleft stick here really, they have to cooperate to some extent, with what they can cooperate in, otherwise they marginalise themselves completely. At the same time, everybody knows it is not a safe political environment; and the things that the Archbishop of York has just been describing in terms of threats to human rights are still a major, major problem. But what we want to focus on is the urgent need for simple humanitarian aid. The Primates of the communion committed themselves to this very visibly, very publicly, at their recent meeting and what we're asking for is first of all prayer and fasting, Ash Wednesday today, so that we can really focus our energies towards that and then the practical help we can give as a church.

Interviewer: Because I understand that possibly because of the political deal that has been struck, that giving has actually fallen from donor countries in the World Food Programme, saying that giving is down, that they are actually having to reduce rations to people.

ABC: They want to see the results of the new political arrangements, I think, before committing themselves further.

ABY: I think what we said the other day I think that yes, there's a seeming political solution by power sharing, but the truth is, as long as the Home Office Department really is not controlled actually by other than Mugabe and his friends then, just forget it because security won't return, and people won't feel safe. So I say to the donors please continue giving because nothing realistically has changed, and because nothing has realistically changed, may we please help those people who are suffering.

ABC: The churches remain, I think, an effective delivery for aid; the school feeding programmes are crucial here.

Interviewer: And yet there's a particular antagonism between Mugabe and the Anglican Church.

ABC: I think because of the change of regimes, you might say, in the Anglican Church that that's not an easy subject... but I think that the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe has in the last year or so shown the most extraordinary courage and imagination in facing pressure, violence, death-threats, you name it; and they've stood up, very, very bravely and are still there, so that's the point of aid and hope and the delivery of real practical help.

Interviewer: What happens if people don't heed your call today and respond with resources for Zimbabwe what happens then?

ABC: People die. They will die quickly, unpleasantly and children and young people will bear the brunt of it.

ABY: And the spread of cholera, which spreads quickly because it is in the water. We have tablets to treat the water but in the end it will lead...this particular appeal, there will be more and more graves I'm afraid and I think that's very sad.

Interviewer: Has our government done enough? David Miliband has described Robert Mugabe as clinging to power, beating his people to death in order to retain that power, is that a fair description of what he is doing?

ABY: Aid is still being supplied and help, regardless of what Mugabe may say about cholera in Zimbabwe, the people are still being helped; but at the end of the day this requires not purely a domestic solution as far as I'm concerned but the whole International community has actually got to engage because as you saw South Africa was incapable of heeding what the rest of the world is wanting. His neighbours are paralysed by a legacy of history. What I am saying is if this is colonialism, why have we turned now to use currencies which are not Zimbabwean?

Interviewer: Finally what do you think the government should be doing now? What can be done politically? Should there be sanctions?

ABY: I think the EU has said that the sanctions that are in place will remain, in other words Mugabe and all his henchmen are not going to be allowed to travel to Europe and they are going to be increasingly do this, but actually myself would still say at this particular point in time, because a lot of people are starving I think we must provide a lot of humanitarian aid.

And we need to do it until Mugabe is totally isolated, because if you don't do it, remember women and children and a lot of innocent people are going to die because they haven't got any food. But politically, it seems to me that the rest of the international community has now got to find another solution, and not simply relying on South Africa and again, judging South Africa's actions, said they didn't believe that the President Mbeki is now capable of actually brokering any sensible peace in that part of the world.

ABC: Sanctions that cut against the people of Zimbabwe are going to be massively counterproductive; sanctions against the political legitimacy and acceptability of the ruling elite of Zimbabwe are, I think, necessary; I hope they are effective, but they're not the whole story.

Interviewer: And your main call is for individual people to put their hands in their pocket and believe that they can make a difference?

ABC: They can save lives, they can definitely save lives.

ABY: And pray and fast as well.

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