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Harare High Court rules on churches

23 April 2009

by Pat Ashworth

GOVERNMENT ministers in Harare have ordered the implementation of an earlier High Court ruling that Anglicans in Harare must share their church buildings with the con­gregations of the disgraced former bishop, Nolbert Kunonga.

The Bishop of Harare, Dr Sebastian Bakare, had sought a meeting with the Home Affairs office after police harassment reached a peak on Sunday 29 March. Bullets were fired at people trying to go to church, and clerics and lay people were arrested and detained.

Dr Bakare and Mr Kunonga were summoned to a three-hour meeting with ministers, from which the directive came that, until the matter of legitimacy is resolved, the con­gregations must worship at the set times allocated to them by the High Court.

Mr Kunonga has refused to surrender the diocesan offices and assets. His services are attended only by his priests and their families. Rather than confront the police, Dr Bakare has advised his congregations to find other places to worship.

In his Easter pastoral letter, Dr Bakare described what happened on 29 March. “On the 5th Sunday of Lent, we thought that our congregations were going to dwindle, but, instead, even those who had been shying away from our church services turned up in their numbers, to everyone’s surprise. Inside us, we knew that somehow things were going to be all right.”

Speaking on a bad line from Harare on Tuesday, he confirmed that congregations had been able to meet in their buildings on Sun­days since Easter without a police presence.

Mr Kunonga has no status or authority in the Anglican Church, and still faces 38 charges. Much of the press reporting in Zimbabwe portrays the situation as a “feud” or “spat” between two factions or two bishops.

The online edition of the Financial Gazette, for example, said that the Home Affairs min­is­ters’ meeting with Dr Bakare stemmed from “the government’s exasperation over the ‘unchristian’ behaviour of the Anglican Church”. Under the headline “Anglicans in ‘power-sharing’ deal”, it said that Ministers had ordered the bishops to implement a sched­ule of worship agreement, in the presence of their lawyers, to stop the “ugly clashes”.

In the same newspaper, Mr Kunonga is described as having “withdrawn from the Province of Central Africa to form the Province of Zimbabwe . . . citing the alleged tolerance of homosexuality by Bakare’s group”. It said that the government “was miffed by the disturbances in the church and ordered the equitable use of the premises”.

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