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Harare: ex-bishop and police threaten worship

by Pat Ashworth

THE Central African news website Anglican-information reported last weekend that police in Harare appear to be conniving in renewed attempts by the excommunicated former bishop, Nolbert Kunonga, to prevent Anglican worship and to destabilise the diocese.

The Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya, was first locked out, and later driven out, of St Clare’s, Mangwende, as he was about to distribute communion on a pastoral visit. On Advent Sunday, he was prevented from carrying out the confirmation of 130 candidates at St Columba’s, Kuwadzana, and had to hold the service outside.

Bishop Gandiya said of the first incident that priests loyal to Kunonga hurled insults at him and his congregation as police forced them out. “The commanding officer continued to accuse us of breaking the law, and did not want us to explain anything.

He said he would have tear-gassed us if he had wanted to, and that we would not be able to appeal to anyone, because Police Commissioner Chihuri was aware of what he was doing.

“This greatly surprised me. It certainly gave the impression that he had been sanctioned by a higher authority to disturb our service. Equally surprising, as I was getting back into my car, he called me back and said, ‘It’s politics.’” The Bishop said the humiliation of being driven out of the church was “nothing compared to what Jesus went through”.

Kunonga, an ally of President Mugabe, told police that he had won the court case brought against him by the diocese of Harare, and that all church properties belonged to him. A court order, in January 2008, overturned a ban on Anglican worship which led to the occupation of all church buildings by the deposed bishop and his supporters.

The interim ruling gave Kunonga the right to hold services at the times when they had been held in the past, but on condition that he made the churches available to Anglicans of the legitimate Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) 90 minutes later. He responded by physically attacking the then Bishop of Harare, Dr Sebastian Bakare, as he entered his cathedral (News, 25 January 2008).

Kunonga and his priests gathered at St Columba’s before the Advent confirmation service, said Bishop Gandiya, who had informed the police of the expected large gathering and had gone to the police station to seek help. He described the young policeman who accompanied him as “helpless and completely over-foxed by Kunonga and his priests”. A student from Bishop Gaul College, on attachment to St Columba’s, was arrested and charged with “criminal nuisance” for taking photographs of the congregation.

Bishop Gandiya said that the open-air confirmation service, attended by 600 people, had been “a tremendous witness to passers-by. The singing was out of this world. The confirmands were not disheartened at all. Even the Kunonga priests came out of church to watch what we were doing.”

The crumbling judicial system in Zim­babwe allowed Kunonga to hang on to the diocesan assets and offices even after he had withdrawn the diocese from the Province of Central Africa. The court case relating to this, determined as “not urgent” in 2007, is still outstanding. His “congregations” are reported to be a handful of people in some instances, and none in others.

Ordinands at Bishop Gaul College have been threatened with his coming to the college “like a whirlwind”. Weddings and other church events are being prevented by claims that Kunonga has booked a church for the entire day. Clerics have been harassed, church doors bolted, and locks changed.

Bishop Gandiya said on Saturday that Anglicans’ patience and tolerance were being stretched to the limit. “People are angry, and I am very concerned. Please pray for us,” he said, in a message announcing a meeting with churchwardens to alert them to Kunonga’s activities.

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