DR SEBASTIAN BAKARE, retired Bishop of Manicaland, is to be the acting Bishop of Harare for a year, until a new Bishop is elected. He appealed on Tuesday for the prayers of the Anglican Communion as he takes on the task of replacing the sacked Bishop Kunonga.
Bishop Kunonga’s illegal action in declaring that he had withdrawn the diocese from the Province of Central Africa enabled the see to be declared vacant, along with neighbouring Manicaland (News, 19 and 26 October).
A formal announcement by the Dean of the Province, Bishop Albert Chama, was imminent on Wednesday.
Dr Bakare, widely respected as a man of courage and integrity, was the author of an influential book on land reform in the 1990s. He admitted to “mixed feelings” for both himself and his wife, Ruth, in having to wrench himself away from the job he is currently enjoying in retirement as senior lecturer in theology at the Africa University in Mutare, but said: “I think this is something I cannot run away from, something that has to be done, and somebody has to do it. So much is tarnished there. I am aware of the challenges, but that is what it’s all about. We all have to consider what God wants us to do.”
Dr Bakare made plain his disgust at Bishop Kunonga’s activities and also at Archbishop Malango’s compliance, in a letter to the Church Times a month ago in which he castigated the church leadership in Central Africa as “toothless and irrelevant” (Letters, 28 September).
He wrote on that occasion: “One expects the province . . . to have taken to the provincial synod a list of issues for the agenda related to the country’s current crisis, in order to solicit support. . . People are certainly not sleeping with empty stomachs because of homosexuality!”
Dr Bakare emphasised on Tuesday that he was not going to compete with Bishop Kunonga. “I am going to care for the remnant, and that is my starting-point,” he said. “I will also make it very clear that those who remain in the Communion or those who go with him must do so as an informed decision. That is the freedom they have, and one cannot manipulate people to do things they don’t believe in. If the whole diocese wants to go with him, well and good, but I’ve been receiving endless calls and emails from people who are of a different opinion.”
Dr Bakare said that he was touched by messages of support he had received, such as one from a Mirfield Father. He reiterated the need for prayers if his appointment was to be a success, especially in the light of a climate of fear that had left many people “scared for their lives” and reluctant to express open support. “The gospel is nothing else but challenging things that are evil: that’s essential,” he said. He had been a little surprised at being invited to do the job, but: “They know that I’m still very energetic. They are not calling a tired person.”
Bishop Kunonga now has no authority in Harare, although the question of the return of assets is still in abeyance after a court ruling that the matter was “not urgent”.
An account of the illegally constituted meeting he called on 20 October came into the public domain this week from one of the Synod representatives for Christ Church, Borrowdale. It reveals that the meeting was conducted entirely in Shona, without interpreters, and confirmed that objections were ruled out of order. Hecklers told the representative, who is white: “Go to England.”