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Zimbabwe Anglicans optimistic of court victory over Kunonga

by Pat Ashworth

FINAL judgment is awaited from the Supreme Court in Harare, which sat on Monday to deal with all the outstanding issues concerning the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe.

The seven cases were scheduled to take a week but the business was concluded by 1 p.m., and, for the first time in the bitter, five-year battle for justice, the Church's lawyers were satisfied that the matters had been dealt with fairly.

The lawyers had done a "fantastic job", said the Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya, on Monday afternoon. Judgment has already been given in the case concerning Manicaland, where the three judges upheld an earlier decision in favour of the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) and threw out the appeal of the excommunicated bishop, Elson Jacazi.

"The people there can all return to their churches," said Bishop Gandiya. "I am still pinching myself. I have always told people that I'm prepared to be surprised, and I am surprised." The remaining cases all stem from the main matter to be ruled upon, i.e. who is the legitimate Bishop of Harare and chairman of the Board of Trustees. Bishop Gandiya declared himself satisfied at how the matter had been dealt with.

"We are happy that no favouritism at all took place," he said. "Deputy Chief Justice Malaba dealt with the law. In the end, it was very clear what the issues were." The Bishop is clearly optimistic about the outcome, but continues to be cautious, adopting a "so far, so good" approach and is urging continuing prayer and vigilance.

Background:

Since the three judges were all political appointees, Bishop Gandiya had said on Sunday that, "Anything could happen."

Nolbert Kunonga, the excommunicated former Bishop of Harare, and Mr Jacazi, the excommunicated former Bishop of Manicaland, both claim to be the legitimate bishops - and Kunonga to be archbishop of the illegal "Province of Zimbabwe" he created when he and Mr Jacazi withdrew their dioceses from the Province of Central Africa in 2007, on the pretext of its "support for homosexuality".

Since 2007, Kunonga - who had 39 serious charges against him as Bishop of Harare, and walked free from an aborted ecclesiastic trial in 2005 - has subjected Anglicans to what the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, described as "a grave litany of abuses" when he met President Robert Mugabe in October last year.

Dr Williams promised then: "We will continue to fight for the restitution of all our properties in the courts wherever and whenever their ownership is challenged." And he urged the President Mugabe, whose favourite Kunonga was, to ensure that court rulings were "respected rather than ignored".

The Anglican Province's legal battle has suffered from political influence by President Mugabe himself. Early judgments ruled that Kunonga should share premises with the CPCA until the "dispute" over assets and funds had been resolved.

A farcical judgment by Hon Justice Hlatshwayo in July 2009 recognised Kunonga as the incumbent Bishop of Harare (CPCA), and his supporters as the legitimate Board of Trustees, on the grounds that he had conceded to "turn back the clock" and renounce his schismatic actions as though they had never happened. The CPCA lodged an immediate appeal in the Supreme Court, which ensured suspension of the decision, and enabled Bishop Chad Gandiya to be consecrated that month.

Violence and persecution intensified as Kunonga won police support for the implementation of the Hlatshwayo judgment. In March 2010, Justice Chinembiri Bhunu ruled the CPCA's appeal valid, a ruling totally ignored by Kunonga and his followers, despite the dismissal of an appeal by his Board of Trustees. Things got worse from May 2010, when Hlatshwayo summarily called both parties to his court chambers, claimed he had dealt with the main dispute over properties and declared there was no need for a trial.

The CPCA appealed to the Supreme Court against Hlatshwayos's interpretation of the main case, arguing that his refusal to hear it was a denial of their constitutional right to justice. Bishop Albert Chama, now Archbishop of CPCA, demanded that year: "How can such a process meet with the approval of a judge where justice, farirness, impartiality and the protection of fundamental rights, are supposed to be ingrained as guaranteed tenets of an independent judiciary, without fear, favour or prejudice?"

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