Priests forced out of homes as Kunonga wins property fight

by
17 August 2011

by Pat Ashworth

Given custody: Nolbert Kunonga REUTERS

Given custody: Nolbert Kunonga REUTERS

CLERICS and their families are being evicted from rectories in Zim­babwe, after a High Court decision giving custodianship of church property to Nolbert Kunonga, the excommunicated former Bishop of Harare and ally of President Robert Mugabe.

The distress and chaos predicted by the Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya, became a reality on Monday when Kunonga’s supporters — some accompanied by police — delivered stamped copies of the court judgment to all clerics still in parish rectories.

“They told our priests to move out,” Bishop Gandiya said on Mon­day. “We do not know who he is going to put in these houses.”

The two-part judgment was promised a year ago. The diocese had appealed after attempts were made to stop Bishop Gandiya’s consecra­tion in July 2009, and Kunonga was given custodianship of the properties by Justice Ben Hlatshwayo (News, 31 July 2009).

He has turned all the church buildings into business and other centres, and some are also being used for living space. Police used violence and tear gas to prevent worshippers from sharing the buildings with Kunonga’s “congrega­tions”. Now they worship in tents, outdoors, or in the rented buildings of other Churches.

The one positive thing was that the judge had reinstated the 2010 appeal, which Kunonga had tried to prevent, Bishop Gandiya said on Monday. “All is not lost. We wait now for the Supreme Court hearing of everything to do with the property. After that, there’ll be no other appeal. Our lawyers and chancellors have been instructed to push for the hearing, and have been working on the argument.”

The litigation has already cost the Church of the Province of Central Africa $US100,000. Bishop Gandiya has described Kunonga’s claim to ownership of the properties as “day­light robbery, now with support of the law”, and asks: “How can he be custodian of properties of an org­anisation he has already left?”

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Kunonga, who declared in 2007 that he was setting up his own province, and who still faces 38 charges, including incitement to murder, told The New York Times in a recent interview that his “Church” intended to take control of 3000 Anglican churches, schools, hospit­als, and other properties in Zim­babwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Malawi. “Mr Kunonga casts himself as a nationalist leader who is Africanising a church associated with British colonialism,” the paper said.

The Revd Dzikamai Mudenda and his family were the first to be evicted after the court judgment. They were forced to leave St James’s, Mabvuku, in Harare. Friar Joshua, the Principal of Bishop Gaul College, which serves all five dioceses of the province, was also served notice to quit. Kunonga’s people padlocked the library before they left, Bishop Gandiya said — a matter of great concern as ordinands prepared to return for the first semester. “If we lost the books we have, that will take us back many years.”

But morale was high, despite everything that had happened, the Bishop said on Monday. Speaking from Harare before the evictions, he praised the resilience of worshippers. “It’s a joy and a blessing, ministering in this context, because of the support of the diocese,” he said. “Just this last weekend, the Mothers’ Union had a conference in neigh­bouring Manicaland, and the turn­out was way beyond expectation — way beyond 6000 mothers.

“It wasn’t reported in the local press, but it took place, and it was tremendous encouragement. As I go round the diocese, the amazing thing is that people literally regard them­selves as like the Israelites in exile. They say, ‘We are in exile and we will go back home.’”

Emails and letters from around the Anglican Communion helped as well, Bishop Gandiya said. “In spite of the challenges we face, we know we belong to a family, and we are not alone. The encouraging messages we get from around the world are testimony to that.”

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