LONDON – The second highest ranking cleric in the Church of England made a striking protest against the regime of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe on Sunday when he cut up his clerical collar and vowed to not wear one again until the controversial leader is ousted from power.
Speaking on the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show, Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had done the right thing in not taking part in a crucial EU-Africa summit held in Portugal over the weekend, saying he hoped the action would put pressure on Mugabe.
"To talk about partnership in trade with a leader like that – the same goes through for the leader of Sudan – I actually think is whistling in the dark," he said.
"There is a sense in which you have a dialogue with the deaf," Sentamu conceded, noting past attempts by former Prime Minister Tony Blair to challenge Mugabe directly – which were met by protests from other African leaders – and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's recent assertion that critics should voice any complaints to the leader's face.
Brown's decision to boycott the summit in protest of Mugabe's participation was also supported by Christian humanitarian agency Tearfund.
Sentamu went on in the interview to state that he could not understand why South African leaders had not made efforts to drive Mugabe out of power, as West African leaders had done with Charles Taylor in Liberia, adding that if the leaders of Africa had "become sycophantic hero worshippers" then "something has got to happen."
"We need the world to unite against Mugabe really and his regime," said Sentamu in the interview, adding that the relationship between the Zimbabwean leader and Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir was "far too cozy."
"Two black leaders are actually carrying out quite a lot of killing," he said, lamenting Zimbabwe's transition from a "bread basket" to a "basket case itself" that is continuing to descend "into sheer chaos" at the hands of Mugabe.
When asked if South African President Thabo Mbeki should be pressuring the Zimbabwe leadership to address the economic, political and social crisis in its country, Sentamu answered, "South Africa's got to actually wake up to the fact that people there are starving, a lot of people are traumatized."
According to Tearfund, four million Zimbabweans are in desperate need of food relief. The country is also home to the highest number of orphans per capita in the world.
Sentamu then removed his dog collar and dramatically cut into pieces, saying, "You see, as an Anglican, this is what I wear to identify myself that I'm a clergyman. Do you know what Mugabe has done? He's taken people's identity and literally if you don't mind, cut it to pieces.
"This is what he's actually done … and in the end there's nothing. So as far as I'm concerned, from now on I'm not going to wear a dog collar until Mugabe's gone."
The archbishop said the world was holding back from intervening in the crisis out of "pernicious, self-destructing racism."
"A white man does it, the whole world cries. A black person does it, there is a certain sense [of] 'oh this is colonialism'. I'm sorry I don't buy this. Africa and all the world have got to liberate Africa from this mental slavery and this colonial mentality," he said.
Sentamu urged people at every level to do their part in ending Mugabe's reign in Zimbabwe, recollecting the action that people took to end apartheid in South Africa by praying, marching, protesting and raising money to support those in need.
"As Christmas comes around spare a pound, spare a pound for child starving in Darfur and in Zimbabwe," he said.
"Let this money be collected so that when a time comes people can actually have their houses and their homes rebuilt. And to me that's the greatest thing we can actually do as a nation."
Sentamu also said that a challenge from African leaders to Mugabe's regime would not be enough to oust the leader, but only a united international voice.
"What needs to happen is a world voice saying enough is enough, this cannot be tolerated."
Africa and Europe's first summit in seven years ended in deadlock over trade issues on Sunday, stalling plans to forge a fresh economic partnership that would ease Europe's fears of being bumped out of its current spot as Africa's largest commercial partner by China.
Sentamu is no stranger to challenging leadership on human rights, having fled from his native Uganda in 1974 as a result of his outspoken criticism against Idi Amin's dictatorship.
The World Food Programme has warned that over four million people are at risk of severe food shortages in Zimbabwe. Tearfund, meanwhile, has launched an emergency appeal to support churches there as they struggle to bring help to the poorest families affected by the crisis even as they themselves face the daily challenge of finding even the most basic items. The appeal has so far raised over £1.2 million.