For the past five years, Robert Mugabe’s government has, in effect, persecuted the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe. As I blogged previously in 2011, the ex-bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga, a long-time Mugabe supporter, sought to take his diocese out of the Anglican Communion, ostensibly because of Anglican Communion support for gay rights. The church thereupon deposed him and chose a new bishop, Chad Gandiya. But, Mugabe continued to support Kunonga and a pro-Mugabe judge gave him “custody” of church property pending a high court ruling. Kunonga also ended up with a confiscated, previously white-owned, farm. Pro-government goons over the past five years have, in effect, overseen the transfer of the cathedral in Harare, Anglican schools, orphanages, and parish churches to Kunonga and his supporters. The archbishop of Canterbury protested directly to Mugabe last year.
The attack on the Anglican Church appeared to fit Mugabe policy of “Africanizing colonial institutions.” Even though the church is overwhelmingly black African in its membership, it was initially established in Zimbabwe by the British who built the elaborate cathedral in Harare. At least some of Mugabe’s supporters thought that Anglicans disproportionately supported the opposition Movement for Democracy Change. They also bitterly resented the criticism of the Mugabe regime by Anglicans worldwide.
Hence it is a surprise that the High Court judges–all Mugabe political appointees–ruled against Kunonga and in favor of the Anglican Church shortly before Christmas. The Anglicans have reoccupied their cathedral in Harare and numerous other churches and schools from which they had been evicted. The process was often accompanied by “cleansing ceremonies” that attracted large crowds, according to the press.
To me, it is unclear why Mugabe has apparently reversed himself on the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, especially amidst the current political debate over a new constitution, and in anticipation of the subsequent elections.