Nkhoma Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) says its pastoral letter issued yesterday reflects the synod’s “candid thoughts” on the prevailing situation in the country and not pandering to the whims of any politician.
In an interview last evening in the wake of the pastoral letter themed; An Opportunity to Choose a Leader With Good Reputation, Full of the Holy Spirit and Wisdom (Acts 6:3), Nkhoma Synod general secretary the Reverend Vasco Kachipapa said the synod was surprised to learn that some people were disturbed by the tone and content of the letter.
He said: “The pastoral letter was put together by synod leaders. It was members of the clergy working in a task force. The message was based on our annual Easter reflections, but because this concided with the general elections, around the corner [on May 21 2019], we had to include poll issues.
“I categorically refute rumours that the synod was pandering to the whims of any politician. Those that do not agree with the synod are free to do so, after all, divergent views are what democracy is all about.”
The synod’s letter, read out in its 203 churches across the Central Region, explicitly commented on the fact that six of incumbent President Peter Mutharika’s challengers include two of his Cabinet members, notably estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima and Minister of Health Atupele Muluzi.
The synod observes that the fact that Mutharika is being challenged by his own Cabinet members is a vote of no confidence in him, especially considering that the duo is accusing the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration of rampant corruption.
Further, Nkhoma Synod notes that it is ironical that Chilima—a former corporate executive who rose to the post of Airtel Malawi managing director before Mutharika roped him into active politics in February 2014 to be his running mate—and Muluzi feel they can each rule Malawi better despite being part of the government they criticise. The letter points out that the Cabinet members were using State resources for their campaign.
Giving guidance to the flock, the synod said the leader to be entrusted with power in the elections should be one that will respect the Constitution, has no record of corruption, will unify Malawians and will not protect thieves and looters of public resources.
The guidance added that such a leader should also not promote abortion and same sex marriages and must make his stand known on these issues.
Reads the letter: “We, the clergy of CCAP Nkhoma Synod, encourage all voters to vote into power the one and only leader who has the above-listed leadership qualities as the President of the Republic of Malawi. The man with good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom [Acts 6:3].”
Social media commentators yesterday interpreted the letter as an attack or a vote of no confidence in Mutharika, Chilima and Muluzi. Some suggested that Nkhoma Synod was subtly endorsing Malawi Congress Party (MCP) candidate Lazarus Chakwera.
But Kachipapa stressed the need for people to desist from propagating what he called unfounded rumours against a church with a prophetic responsibility over its flock in particular and the country in general.
The letter also faults DPP leadership for not condemning or disciplining its youth cadets for perpetrating violence.
Minister of Information and Communications Technology Henry Mussa, who is the official government spokesperson, in an interview monitored on Zodiak Broadcasting Station, regretted that the message in the letter was one of the many that criticise the Mutharika administration unfairly.
He said Malawi has faced plunder of public resources perpetrated by predecessor regimes, including the 31 years of single party rule of MCP. He said DPP administration is currently prosecuting Cashgate suspects.
In his reaction, United Democratic Front (UDF) spokesperson Ken Ndanga said the party does not have control over church doctrines. But he observed that the church should embrace all political parties.
On claims that UDF presidential candidate Muluzi is a Cabinet minister in a corrupt government, Ndanga defended him, saying that he is not in government serving a particular individual, but Malawians who will judge him on May 21.
Reacting to the letter in an interview, socio-political commentator Humphreys Mvula said he has no problem with the Nkhoma letter, scathing as it may have been to those in power.
He said he agreed with the thinking that all those serving in government share the poor leadership ills through the tag of collective responsibility.
But Mvula said those that eventually chart their own ways of trying to serve Malawians should be given the opportunity to do so by completing constitutional responsibilities and benefits before seeking the mandate to serve the public through their visions.
The Nkhoma letter has come two weeks after Bishop Martin Mtumbuka of Karonga Catholic Diocese challenged the electorate to free themselves from “this slavery and dehumanising poverty” by voting for leaders who can change the country’s direction.
During a Chrism Mass at St Joseph the Worker Cathedral in Karonga, the bishop urged Malawians not to vote for corrupt leaders in the elections.
In April 2018, Catholic bishops in the country, under the umbrella of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), said Malawi needed a change of direction, lamenting that the hard-won democracy was not yielding the fruits people anticipated.
The pastoral letter observed that 54 years after independence, Malawians were still wallowing in poverty as the few “exercise power band enjoy wealth at the expense of the majority”.
In their 16-page Pastoral Letter titled ‘A Call For A New Era In Malawi’, the bishops said: “We are of the opinion that Malawi, as a nation, needs a change of direction if we are to reverse the situation.”
Representatives of MCP and Chilima’s UTM Party could not be reached for comment to react to the letter and public interpretations.