Zambia will tomorrow put to rest Cardinal Merdado Mazombwe; an icon and remarkable spiritual leader who served this country for more than 50 years with diligence and distinction. A man who never minced his words on issues that were sometimes difficult and controversial. No task was too small or too big for him. He spoke out against the world order on debt and debt forgiveness to the extent that he made this task almost personal, and it was gratifying that within his time HIPC was no more.
He campaigned and joined the rest of Africa and the third world in ensuring that a moratorium on the huge debt contracted by Zambia and other third world countries was cancelled in the Jubilee 2000 movement.
He did not stop there but worked hard in various pastoral activities within the archdiocese and outside to ensure that the benefits of debt removal were explained and realised by the ordinary Zambians. He was at home in Ng’ombe and other unplanned settlements championing the cause of the poor.
On politics, he championed the cause of political reform and in his quiet way embraced all the major actors, encouraging them to focus and concentrate their effort to campaigning for a peaceful and God-fearing Zambia.
Sadly, Cardinal Mazombwe leaves behind a highly compromised Church which has failed to stand up for the suffering, impoverished and voiceless people of the country.
The Church has shunned and shied away from pertinent national issues, only to emerge with lukewarm platitudes long after the fact as exemplified by the cold blooded murder of the two Kampasa residents and the forcible removal of long established residents in the area. On the Copperbelt, lack of sanitation, clean drinking water and generally poor living conditions are the norm.
The Church, particularly the long established Church, has remained silent to this very indecent conduct and the subsequent neglect of the victims who are now sleeping in the cold and yet their plight is a well known fact. Apart from a few small churches that have contributed food,there has been a deafening silence from some of the major churches indicating a reluctance to engage with the authorities over contentious issues.
The Catholic Church has previously stood up and associated with people under siege from unfair government land seizures and dispossession. A case in point being the long drawn-out conflicts on the Copperbelt, including the Makenzie settlement.
Cardinal Mazombwe will indeed be remembered for his humility and humble approach to political social and economic issues where he very often took positions.
He will be remembered for example for spearheading the construction of the Cathedral of the Child Jesus, an edifice he loved and visited long after he retired.Zambia today, more than ever before, is in dire need of quality leadership that provides inspiration, focus and a vision, a leadership that eschews indifference, violence and patronage.Cardinal Mazombwe will, above all, be remembered as a humble servant of God who preached tolerance, non-violence and an enduring option for the poor.