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Zimbabwean Anglicans given hope by courts

26 October 2012

by Pat Ashworth


Optimistic: the Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya

Optimistic: the Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya

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

The seven cases were scheduled to take a week, but the business on five of them 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", the Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya, said on Monday afternoon. Judgment has already been given in the cases 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 Jakazi.

"The people there can all return to their churches," Bishop Gandiya said. "I am still pinching myself."

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 with the way 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."

Nolbert Kunonga, the excommunicated former Bishop of Harare, and Mr Jakazi, 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 Jakazi 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 whose ecclesiastical trial was aborted in 2005 - has subjected Anglicans to what the Archbishop of Canterbury described as "a grave litany of abuses" when he met President Robert Mugabe last October.

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."

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 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 that he would "turn back the clock" and renounce his schismatic actions as though they had never happened - a claim that Kunonga was still making in court on Monday. The CPCA lodged an immediate appeal in the Supreme Court, which ensured suspension of the decision, and enabled Bishop 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. Kunonga and his followers simply ignored the ruling. Things got worse from May 2010, when Justice Hlatshwayo summarily called both parties to his court chambers, said that he had dealt with the main dispute over properties, and declared that there was no need for a trial.

The CPCA appealed to the Supreme Court against Justice Hlatshwayos's interpretation.

Comments within Zimbabwe this week suggested a shift of attitude by central government towards Kunonga. Precious Shumba, a spokesman for the diocese of Harare, spoke of Kunonga as having been "chasing shadows" in the court. He described the outcome of the proceedings on Monday as a victory for all the Anglicans in the CPCA who had been denied access to their churches, schools, clinics, and orphanages.

"Although final judgments are due, we sense a change in the attitude towards Kunonga," he told South West Radio Africa. "Even the ZBC [Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation] has now disowned him."

The Bishop of Manicaland, the Rt Revd Julius Makoni, expressed his relief on Tuesday. "The Supreme Court judgment was received with much joy throughout the diocese," he said. "We were always confident that the Court would rule in our favour, but this was still a pleasant surprise. Now the hard work of rebuilding our diocese, our hospitals, schools, church buildings, offices, etc. begins. The most important thing is that we now know where we stand, and can move on with our lives with confidence."

Southwark diocese has partnerships with four of the Anglican dioceses in Zimbabwe. Canon Bruce Saunders said on Tuesday: "It is extremely encouraging for all who love and support the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe to hear that there are judges in the Supreme Court with the courage and integrity to interpret the law even-handedly, and to cut through the forest of lies that have confused this issue for so long.

"Monday's initial judgment appears to be wonderful news for the diocese of Manicaland, even though it will take years to restore its churches, schools, and hospitals to their former state. . .

"Bearing in mind how easily Kunonga has ignored previous court judgments, we will be praying here that the Supreme Court will this time see that its judgments are not violated."

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