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2000-03-17 00:17
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Now you must forgive Mozambique its debts, Methodist bishop
tells West
ENI-00-0087

By Stephen Brown in Geneva, Noel Bruyns in East London, South
Africa,
and Anthony Kunda in Lusaka
10 March (ENI)--As churches in southern Africa mobilise to help
the victims of the floods in Mozambique, the president of the
country's main ecumenical organisation had called on the rich
nations of the world to forgive his country its crippling debts.


Methodist Bishop Bernadino Mandlate, who is president of the
Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM), said that it was immoral
that creditor nations continued to demand payments while the
country's population was struggling to survive the devastating
floods. Mozambique pays US$1.46 million a week to service its
debts, according to Christian Aid, based in London, which has
publicised the bishop's call for debt relief.

"The economic situation of Mozambique was precarious before the
flooding. Now the economic situation has gone from precarious to
catastrophic," according to Bishop Mandlate, who belongs to the
Methodist Church in Southern Africa (Weslyan Church in
Mozambique).

Although in recent years there had been rapid growth, this
growth had mainly benefited the urban areas, such as the capital,
Maputo, he stressed. "Most of Mozambique has not seen the fruits
of the growth. Nearly 70 per cent of Mozambicans live in the
countryside, and it is the life of these people which has been
worst affected by the flooding. With the harvest gone, these
people have lost their livelihood."

Bishop Mandlate added that while the flooding was a disaster,
the disaster of debt had been continuing for years. "I make no
apology for discussing debt at this time. It is a disaster that
children under five are dying because of [the lack of]
healthcare, sacrificed because of the need to pay back old
loans."

A Christian Aid policy assistant, Mark Farmaner, told ENI today
that the cancellation of 90 per cent of Mozambique's foreign
debt was scheduled for the near future under the "Heavily
Indebted Poor Countries" (HIPC) initiative. Since the floods, a
number of countries, including Great Britain, the United States,
Germany and Finland, had announced that they would write off the
remainder of Mozambique's debts once the bulk of the debt had
been cancelled. However, the International Monetary Fund and the
World Bank had not announced any similar initiative.

Neither has Japan, which is chairing the meeting of the Group of
Seven (G7) industrialised countries in July. Mozambique owes
Japan around $56 million. Japan has offered Mozambique $1 million
of assistance in kind.

In most cases, Mozambique is also paying heavy debt-servicing
charges, even though much of its debt is to be written off in the
near future.

"That's taking resources away from Mozambique at a critical
time," Farmaner told ENI.

Meanwhile, in other parts of southern Africa, church leaders
have expressed shock at the effects of the flooding and called on
their members to help provide assistance.

In South Africa, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town,
Njongonkulu Ndungane, has launched an emergency fund for
Mozambican flood victims and has appealed to all South Africans
and to Anglican bishops throughout southern Africa to urge their
parishes to contribute. "We simply cannot stand by without
responding to the horrific circumstances. Our relationship with
our sister nation calls for action that will hopefully spur the
rest of the world to follow suit," Archbishop Ndungane said. "The
human drama unfolding is far bigger than one denomination, one
faith or any of the other divides in our society."

The Catholic Bishops of Southern Africa have also expressed
extreme concern about the devastation caused by the floods and
called on "all people of good will" to contribute to the relief
effort. In a statement released in Cape Town on 8 March, the
bishops pointed out that hundreds had perished and hundreds of
thousands more were homeless, starving and in grave danger of
contracting diseases.

In Zambia, churches have united across denominational barriers
to provide material support to the flood victims in Mozambique.
Churches belonging to the Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAOG),
and to the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) are
spearheading the collection of material and monetary support from
all churches in Zambia.

POAG and EFZ churches between them account for more than 1.5
million Christians.

Joshua Banda, vice national superintendent of POAG, told ENI
that the two umbrella bodies were "merely co-ordinating the
project. Otherwise this is for every Christian living in Zambia
today."

Banda, who is overseeing the programme, added: "For this reason
we are going to work with all the umbrella church organisations
like the Christian Council of Zambia and the Zambia Episcopal
Council."

He said the co-ordinating committee, including clergy from
different denominations, was gathering a wide range of goods, and
hoped to collect 1000 blankets and 50 tents, as well as gas and
paraffin stoves, cooking utensils, soap, candles, mosquito nets,
and children's clothes.

"We see this as an opportunity to unite as Christians for the
purpose of alleviating the suffering of our brothers and sisters
in Mozambique."

Father Ignatius Mwebe, secretary general of Zambia's Catholic
Secretariat, described the programme as an opportunity for
"Christian churches to come together and narrow the
differences".

The Catholic Church would give spiritual and material support
"to such a cause, because the social teachings of the church
emphasise the need to help the less fortunate. We will not sit
back."

A spokesperson the Christian Council of Zambia (CCZ) said the
cause "started by the Pentecostal and Evangelical churches is a
very noble one, we can do nothing but render the support we
can".

? Mozambican Anglican Bishop Dinis Sengulane, who is also the
chairman of the Bible Society board in Mozambique, had a narrow
escape from death because of the floods. He was trapped by the
waters after being forced to abandon his car on the road to
Maputo, but was airlifted to safety by helicopter.

Speaking after his rescue, Bishop Sengulane said that hospitals
were overcrowded and "even patients with malaria, cholera or
meningitis had to sleep on the floor."