THE rule of law has triumphed and the Anglican Church in
Zimbabwe has finally won justice in the Supreme Court, after a
costly five-year legal battle, and a decade of attempts to deal
with the excommunicated former Bishop of Harare and ally of
President Mugabe, Nolbert Kunonga.
The British Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Deborah Bronnert, an
Anglican worshipper in Harare, described the news as "a good day
for Christians of all denominations, and for freedom of religion".
The Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya (above),
told reporters after the judgment had been read on Monday: "We
waited. We have been vindicated. This is God's doing."
Since seceding from the diocese in 2007 and setting up their own
alternative church and province, Kunonga and his followers have
terrorised and persecuted the legitimate Anglican Church. Aided by
dubious court rulings, and often with the active co-operation of
the police, they have appropriated its buildings and assets, and
subjected worshippers to what the Archbishop of Canterbury
described as "a grave litany of abuses" when he confronted
President Mugabe in Harare last year (
News, 14 October 2011).
The diocese had been what Bishop Gandiya described as
"cautiously optimistic" about the outcome of the hearing, held
three weeks ago, when the evidence was properly considered for the
first time and judgment was given against the excommunicated former
Bishop of Manicaland, Elson Jakazi (
News, 26 October).
All the appeals by Kunonga have been dismissed. He has been
ordered to return the property, and pay some of the costs. The
legal case centred on whether Kunonga and his followers had
withdrawn their membership of the Anglican Church when they
voluntarily left it, and whether they could therefore still be
members of the Board of Trustees, a matter which vitally concerned
the legitimacy and incumbency of the Bishop of Harare.
A judgment by Justice Ben Hlatshwayo in 2009, which recognised
Kunonga as the incumbent bishop, and his supporters as the
legitimate Board of Trustees, has now been overturned. Monday's
judgment made clear that "the learned Judge was wrong in giving Dr
Kunonga and his followers the right to possess and control the
property of the Church without its consent. They had no right to
continue in possession of the congregational buildings when they
had departed from the fundamental principles and standards on which
the Church is founded. They left it putting themselves beyond its
The judges also pronounced: "The facts show that Dr Kunonga was
no longer a Diocesan Bishop in Harare. . . When they left the
Anglican Church, they disentitled themselves from continuing as
members of the Board of Trustees of the Church. . . They used the
property and continued to control it without the approval of or
authority from the Provincial Synod. . .
"When one leaves a club, one does not take its property with him
or her. . . It is common cause that the property belongs to the
Church. It has a right to an order for vindication of its
property from possessors who have no right to have it."
Kunonga used the pretext of the issue of homosexuality to secede
from the province. Over the many years of the dispute, this has
been given credence and reported as fact, with scant regard to what
had gone before: a campaign of alleged abuse and violence that led
to an ecclesiastical trial in 2005 on 38 counts that included
incitement to murder. In an atmosphere of intimidation, the trial
was aborted and Kunonga walked smiling from the court. He has still
not been prosecuted for any of his crimes.
Reflecting on the origins of the dispute, the judges concluded:
"A debate which had started in the Church some time back on the
question whether homosexuality was being tolerated by the
ecclesiastical authorities reached crisis point in August 2007. .
"Dr Kunonga and his followers held very strong views on the
question of tolerance of homosexuality. . . [They] reached the
stage where they regarded it as a matter of faith that homosexuals
and members of the Church who supported and sympathised with them
should not be associated with."
The judges reflected, however, that Kunonga's principle of
exclusion of homosexuals and their supporters and sympathisers
from the public worship of God, was opposed to "the fundamental
principles of a free offer of redemption and salvation of Christ
on the basis of which the Church is founded."
Victory has come too late for the late Bob Stumbles, Chancellor
of the diocese of Harare, whose tireless campaigning for justice
and precise documenting of legal developments over many years did
so much to keep the Kunonga case in the public eye. Other lawyers
involved in the early years have expressed their delight at the
news. Jeremy Lewis, who received threats after prosecuting at
Kunonga's aborted trial, said on Tuesday: "The roofs of our
Anglican Churches will be raised, and our refurbished organs
thunder the joyous day of reckoning we all knew would have to come.
Its advent with Christmas is an added blessing."
Ms Bronnert said: "I am delighted at the news that the
Anglican Church in Zimbabwe has won its court cases in the Supreme
Court of Zimbabwe, and that now church property . . . should be
returned to its rightful owners.
"I also welcome the spirit in which Bishop Chad Gandiya has
responded to the news, and his call to his Church to be gracious in
victory. I look forward to worshipping in my own church building,
and in the Anglican Cathedral in Harare."
Bishop Gandiya, who could not be consecrated in his cathedral,
and has not been able to enter it since becoming Bishop of Harare,
expressed his happiness on Monday. "We were cautiously confident
that things had changed and that the rule of law was going to take
its course, which it has," he said. "Whatever caused the change,
we feel vindicated and that we can move on with our lives and the
work of the Church. There is great joy and excitement all
The diocese now faces a huge task in retrieving and repairing
its property, much of which Kunonga had turned over to secular use,
and restoring its vital health and education services.
Bishop Gandiya wanted to say, through the Church Times, a big
thank-you for the support of the Anglican Communion, "to all those
who have been supporting us and praying for us."
Dr Williams expressed his true delight at the news on Tuesday,
describing it as heralding a new era for the Anglican Church in
Zimbabwe. "We can at last say that there is justice for a
long-suffering and beleaguered community. . .
"The hope must also be that this is a sign of better things to
come eventually for all the people of Zimbabwe: the rule of law is
not, after all, extinct."