Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has asked to meet with Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe during a pastoral visit to Zimbabwe next month, according to his office. As of now, Mugabe has not responded. The archbishop and the churches of the Anglican Communion have strongly criticized Mugabe’s human rights abuses and bad governance.
In 2007, the then-bishop of Harare, Norbert Kunonga, a long-time Mugabe supporter, sought to take his diocese out of the Anglican Communion. Accordingly, the church deposed him and chose a new bishop, Chad Gandiya. But, Kunonga continues to enjoy Mugabe’s support, and a pro-Mugabe judge has given him “custody” of church property pending a high court ruling. In the meantime, there are numerous reports of pro-government goons threatening supporters of Bishop Gandiya.
Kunonga says that he left the Anglican Communion because of its tolerance of homosexuality, which is anathema to Mugabe and perhaps most Zimbabweans. Mugabe supporters say that he is also seeking to ‘Africanize’ a colonial institution.
I suspect it is not so straightforward. Some around Mugabe think that Anglicans in Zimbabwe disproportionately support the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Morgan Tsvangirai. They also bitterly resent the criticism of Anglicans worldwide of the Mugabe regime. (The Archbishop of York — of Ugandan heritage – literally cut up his clerical collar on television and said he would not wear it until Mugabe was removed from power.)
Race, as always, probably plays a role. In the past, when Mugabe felt threatened by the opposition MDC, he turned against white farmers who he accused of bankrolling the party. Now, in the run up to elections, he’s turning against some of his most vocal critics, the Anglican Church.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is going to central Africa in a pastoral capacity, not as a representative of the British government. (No high-level British political figure has visited Zimbabwe since 1991.) But, his visit, whether or not Mugabe sees him, will highlight the travails of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe and the regime’s apparent effort to dominate it. Mugabe himself is (or once was) a Roman Catholic.