by Oscar Jones
FR MEL HILL, Catholic chaplain to the Zimbabwe Armed Services, died in Harare on May 25.
The death of Fr Hill, coming so soon after the departure of the Rev Beet Van Schalkwyk, the Airforce chaplain, for South Africa, breaks up a partnership .in ministry which first came to public notice during the airforce trial last year.
Six white airforce officers were accused of assisting in a sabotage in July 1982 of the Thornhill airforce base near Gweru. After a protracted period of detention during which they were tortured by the Zimbabwe secret police and CID, the six finally came to trial in May 1983.
They were acquitted of the charge,s, but immediately afterwards were redetained on the orders of Herbert Ushewokunze, the Home Affairs Minister, causing a diplomatic crisis.
During the long ordeal that followed, the two churchmen sustained the six detainees' morale. They were "towers of strength" wrote Peter Briscoe, the only Catholic out of the six, a viewpoint voiced by other officers. The churchmen were assiduous in attending court.
Mel Hill's tall, slightly stooped figure in blue airforce uniform moved among the anxious relatives, consoling and always courteous.
At the service Rev Val Rajah, the Chaplain-General, Hindu turned Pentecostalist, prayed publicly that Herbert Lishrwokunze wonld either repent or be removed from his Home Affairs portfolio.
The news of Fr Hill's death takes my mind back to last year, that time of uncertainty and mental strife. Amid it all there was a wonderful spirit of unity.
Maybe the team has not been broken up after all. I certainly cannot conceive or concede the possibility that Mel Hill is no longer the men's padre.