Bishop D.R. Lamont, O.Carm.
An open letter to the Rhodesian Government
Bishop Donal R. Lamont, O.Carm.
This letter was written by Bishop Lamont to the government of the then Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe) and was published on August 11, 1976.
Concern for world peace and for the well-being of Rhodesia and all its people compels me to take the unusual step of addressing myself to you, members of the government, in this grave moment of the nation’s history.
As a Catholic bishop I cannot be silent while civil discontent, racial tension and violence are so much in evidence and daily on the increase. There is serious danger of bloody confrontation between the races within Rhodesia itself, of the political involvement of other countries, and of the consequent escalation of the conflict throughout the whole of the subcontinent. Already along the full length of my diocese a state of war exists. Last night’s bombardment of the city of Umtali brought home to everyone this hard reality.
Conscience compels me to state that your administration by its clearly racist and oppressive policies and by its stubborn refusal to change, is largely responsible for the injustices which have provoked the present disorder and it must in that measure be considered guilty of whatever misery or bloodshed may follow.
Far from your policies defending Christianity and Western civilisation, as you claim, they mock the law of Christ and make communism attractive to the African people. God wills his world and its peoples to be ruled with justice. He desires that men should do to their fellowmen what they would like done to themselves. Such will is openly disregarded and deliberately frustrated by the manner in which you rule Rhodesia.
On whatever dubious grounds you may at one time have based your claim to rule, such argument no longer has any validity. You may rule with the consent of a small and selfish electorate, but you rule without the consent of the nation – which is the test of all legitimacy. All the legalistic quibbling in the world cannot alter that fact.
Neither can you deny that the world community of nations rejects your claim to legality. Your administration is an outcast from and stands condemned by the civilised world. Justification for this condemnation is set out with the most detailed, objective and incontrovertible clarity in the legal study recently published and distributed throughout the world by the International Commission of Jurists. This important document which you dare not neglect and cannot refute, supports any considered belief that the dangers which threaten Rhodesia have their roots in the repressive legislation which you have enacted in an effort to maintain the power and the privilege of the white minority, reckless of the rights of the rest of the population.
To summarize in its briefest form your abuse of power, I can do no better than to quote the words of Pope Paul VI when addressing the United Nations on the subject of racial discrimination. The Pope said: “Within a country which belongs to each one, all should be equal before the law, find equal admittance to economic, cultural and social life, and benefit from a fair share of the nation’s riches.” In every single detail of that magisterial statement your administration fails. The non-European people of Rhodesia are by your law denied every one of these rights which are theirs as from nature.
No wonder the oppressed people, made marginal to society in their own country, have welcomed and continue to welcome those whom they call “freedom fighters” and whom you call “terrorists.” This is readily understandable. It is understandable too that such a force should have arisen and that it should daily be on the increase. They feel themselves compelled in conscience to fight for the elimination of all the discrimination which has degraded their people and made them second-class citizens in the land of their birth.
While I say this I must make it absolutely clear that, as in the past, I deplore and denounce with all the power which I have to command, all acts of violence which may have been perpetrated by these or other individuals or groups. The church can never condone such violence, no more than it can turn a blind eye to its causes. At the same time I must repeat – no matter what the consequences to myself – that the institutional violence sanctioned by your administration and made respectable by acts of Parliament, is itself the root cause of most of the physical violence which Rhodesia has experienced during the past ten years.
Prescinding from the long-standing discrimination practiced against the nonwhite population of this country, and lest I should seem to speak in vague generalities, let me record here some of the grave injustices which your administration has introduced since it came to office. Oppressive legislation has been multiplied, even when publicly rejected by your own Senate Legal Committee. The African civilian population has been clearly made to feel that it is now the deliberate target for what would normally be called “the forces of law and order.” The army and police have been officially accorded excessive powers and guaranteed indemnity against the abuse of them. Approval has been granted for the bombing and destruction of villages, even though these should contain innocent people. Obstacles of all kinds have been placed in the way of those who seek either legal justice or compensation for death or brutal treatment or loss of property. The media have been placed almost under the control of one political party, your own, and are manipulated constantly to suppress or to distort the truth.
Nor is this all: In a state which claims to be democratic, people are restricted or imprisoned without trial, tortured or tried in camera, put to death by secret hanging, and justification for all this barbarity is sought by you in the name of Christianity and Western civilisation and for what you call the “maintaining of Rhodesian standards.” Surely this is the final absurdity!
In spite of their limited vision and their consequent denial of integral development to all the people of Rhodesia, the efforts of previous governments had indeed brought many of the benefits of Christianity and of Western civilisation to this country. You, however, by your total insensitivity to the rights of the human person and by your inability to read the signs of the times, have undone much of what had previously been accomplished. Yet you refuse to recognize your sorry condition and appear satisfied to continue your oppressive policies even though they should bring ruin to Rhodesia. Your reaction to the recent Quenet Report on Racial Discrimination is eloquent proof of this.
Over the years and as a matter of principle the Catholic Church has had to refuse to practice racial segregation in its schools and hospitals or to limit to the percentage laid down by your administration, the service of Christian charity which is commanded of it by the gospel. Today and equally important decision will have to be taken whenever or wherever the charity of the church is sought by those who are in conscience opposed to your regime. Have not those who honestly believe that they fight for the basic human rights of their people a justifiable claim on the church for the spiritual administration of the clergy? How can one counsel loyalty and obedience to your ordinances when to do so is tantamount to giving approval to the manifold injustices you inflict. To keep silence about one reign of oppression in order to better combat what you alone consider to be another, is wholly unacceptable.
If intensification of racial hatred, widespread urban guerrilla activity, increased destruction of property and fearful loss of life are to be avoided; if the whole subcontinent of Africa is not to be engulfed in a cruel war, you must without delay change your present tragic course of action. To continue Pope Paul’s remarks: “As long as the rights of all peoples, among them the right of self-determination and independence, are not duly recognized and honoured, there cannot be true and lasting peace, even though the abusive power of arms may for a time prevail over the reactions of those oppressed . . . . All men must participate in the life of the nation. Power, responsibility and the decision making cannot be the monopoly of one group or race segment of the people.” Undoubtedly this will involve for some the sacrifice of privileges based solely on race, but being a work of justice it should eliminate the sources of discontent and violence and bring about that peace that we all long for.
It is up to you to give the lead. The fate of Rhodesia and its people is in your hands.