John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Anglicans in Zimbabwe Regain Cathedral and Other Properties

by John Campbell
January 9, 2013

File photo of Zimbabwe Anglican Bishop Kunonga. 26/10/2003. (Howard Burditt/Courtesy Reuters) File photo of Zimbabwe Anglican Bishop Kunonga. 26/10/2003. (Howard Burditt/Courtesy Reuters)

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.

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  • Posted by Thomas Mhuriro

    Interesting developments within the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe. However, there is still need to ascertain the real position of the ZANU (PF) government in terms of the State-Church relations. My personal experience in Zimbabwe within this same context led me to a different conclusion. I was a victim of Kunonga but never of the government that cleared me to leave the country. At one time in 2006 I took the bold step of approaching the CIO when Kunonga indicated that they were looking for me. As a law abiding Zimbabwean, I had nothing to fear. I realised that Kunonga was actually abusing ZANU (PF) structures and I am not surprised that the whole development came to weigh against his personal aspirations that had nothing to do with God or Zimbabwe. Of course ZANU (PF) may not turn away supporters but if they become a liability like Kunonga then serious measures have to be taken.

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