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Harare churches lock-out

29 May 2008

by Pat Ashworth

Reaching out: Zimbawean immigrants greet the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, as he visits the Methodist Central Church in Primrose, Johannesburg, last week AP

Reaching out: Zimbawean immigrants greet the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, as he visits the Methodist Central Church in Primrose, Johannesburg...

ALL Anglican churches in the diocese of Harare have now been barred to all except the handful of “worshippers” who support the excommunicated bishop, Nolbert Kunonga.

Police interference and obstruction of services over the past months has escalated into violence against congregations in recent weeks. The Bishop of Harare, Dr Sebastian Bakare, has appealed to the Zimbabwean police to stop brutalising Anglicans, and for “sanity to prevail” in the face of total disregard of a Supreme Court ruling that the church buildings should be shared.

“Our struggle to worship without harassment continues,” he wrote in a pastoral letter to parishes last week. “We are not, however, deterred by this lawlessness, and will continue to seek justice through the courts. . . As a diocese, we will look for alternative worship places to ensure that members of our congregations remain united as we struggle for freedom of worship.

“We will never cease to worship. We also believe, whether the police like it or not, that God will intervene, maybe not today or tomorrow, but in His own time. We will rejoice when this happens.”

Mr Kunonga has been circulating rumours that Dr Bakare is conspiring with Britain against Zimbabwe. A British journalist, Peter Oborne, said in a diary piece for The Spectator after visiting the Bishop last week: “Bishop Sebastian told me that Kunonga is spreading the word that along with Gordon Brown, he is seeking to bring down the government.”

Dr Bakare told Mr Oborne: “An undersecretary came to see me to say he understood that I was organising a coup. I told him that really I didn’t know that I had the power. Nor did I have access to Gordon Brown.”

In a worsening situation, as the re-run election approaches on 27 June, the Roman Catholic Church reports that many priests are on ZANU-PF’s wanted list, and are being hunted down by soldiers and militia groups. The charity Aid to the Church in Need said on Monday that reprisals had come after the RC Church had joined other denominations on 8 May to protest against the deteriorating human-rights situation and the “organised violence” in areas that did not vote for ZANU-PF.

A priest speaking anonymously told the charity that hospitals overwhelmed with victims of the political violence now lacked even basic painkillers to treat the injured and maimed; the streets were full of people living rough after their houses had been looted and burned; and food was being withheld from those who did not vote for ZANU-PF. “Despite their best efforts, Catholic dioceses are unable to obtain any food for the hungry,” he said.

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