During the 35th General Congregation of the Jesuits (2008), Pope Benedict XVI told members gathered in Rome that “the church needs you… particularly to reach those physical and spiritual places which others do not reach or have difficulty in reaching.”
In the same address, the pope said, “strive to build bridges of understanding and dialogue.” He also urged Jesuits to go to the frontiers.
Father Mukonori was attempting to do this when he worked at the Jesuit Social Justice and Development Centre in Harare. Later on, Silveira House—the Jesuit Social Justice and Development Centre in Zimbabwe—became an important place for political discussions which would lay foundations for the country’s post-colonial era. Father Mukonori says that it was the only safe place where nationalists could gather freely to discuss the future of Zimbabwe.
Mr. Mugabe’s sister, Sabena, also worked at Silveira House in the youth department, promoting nutrition, hygiene and child care. She too is a friend of the Jesuit.
Father Mukonori says that as soon as he met Mr. Mugabe he knew that he was a leader. “He is a person who never smiled,” Father Mukonori says wryly. “But, when we got to know each other…when I went to Zambia and Mozambique [when Mr. Mugabe was in exile] to meet the patriotic front with the Justice and Peace Commission and [Archbishop Patrick Fani Chakaipa, archbishop of Harare from 1976-2003] we wanted to understand their aims and objectives…
Father Mukonori says that as soon as he met Mr. Mugabe he knew that he was a leader.
“He got more interested in me because I traveled across the whole country and I would give them the facts,” Father Mukonori remembers. “We told him what the Rhodesians did…their success and failure regarding the war. I also told them what the freedom fighters did in fighting the war, the success side and failure side, the date and time as well as the commanders.” He says that he also told them when crimes were committed by members of the patriotic front.
Father Mukonori explains that the exiled leadership were leading the war from the rear. “We were on the frontier and so we went to give them the facts of what was happening on the ground.” Father Mukonori explains that although there was a war raging, they told the exiles that there had to be a negotiated settlement; it was the only way out of the conflict.
They managed to get the Patriotic Front (the coalition fighting white minority rule in Rhodesia) to agree to attend an all-parties conference. In 1979 Mr. Mugabe agreed to such a meeting. He stipulated one condition: “Britain must take and play its full role as the colonizer, no one else.”
Father Mukonori advised Mr. Mugabe during the Lancaster House Conference in 1979, and on Dec. 21, 1979, the Lancaster House Agreement was signed. It led to the creation and recognition of the Republic of Zimbabwe, replacing the unrecognized state of Rhodesia that had been created by Ian Smith's Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965.
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