Africa, Politics

The Anglican Archbishop’s doomed mission to heal Zimbabwe’s divided church

By Simon Allison 7 October 2011

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ trip to Zimbabwe, part of a nine-day tour of Southern Africa that began on Thursday, is no ordinary clerical visit. Mugabe’s violent, factional politics have infiltrated the very heart of Zimbabwe’s Anglican Church, and Williams must try to find a way to heal a divided flock, and somehow redefine those very blurred lines between politics and religion in Zimbabwe. By SIMON ALLISON.

The Zimbabwe Anglican Church’s problems started in earnest in 2007, when Bishop Nolbert Kunonga broke away from the Anglican province of Central Africa, disgusted with the Church’s acceptance of homosexuality, even among its priesthood; a position the Anglican Church’s leading primate, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, supports fully.

Kunonga was excommunicated, turned instead to Zimbabwe’s courts for support – and found it. The courts ruled that Harare’s church buildings should be placed in control of Kunonga, who – surprise, surprise – is a staunch supporter of Robert Mugabe. As the renegade bishop himself said recently: “I am not a puppet of Zanu-PF and if I am a puppet, then I am a proud and educated puppet.”

Since then, there have effectively been two “Anglican Churches” operating in Zimbabwe. Kunonga’s faction enjoys the support of the government and officially owns church buildings worth tens of millions of rands, but attendances are poor. The legitimate faction, as recognised by the main body of the Anglican Church, has been chased out of its churches and is struggling for funds. Congregations worship in tents, fields and private houses, and there have been plenty of reports of violence and intimidation against church members trying to return to their churches, allegedly committed by pro-Mugabe forces. These reports include worshippers being beaten on their way to services and tear gas being fired into congregations which have remained loyal to their faith rather than Mugabe.

While in Zimbabwe, Williams is to preach at a Eucharist service at the National Stadium in Harare, and visit a few grassroots projects. A spokesman for Williams described the trip as about showing solidarity with fellow Anglicans who continue to serve despite “disruption, intimidation and even violence”. He has requested a meeting with Mugabe himself, but so far no confirmation has been forthcoming.

Kunonga has been scathing about the motives for the Archbishop’s visit, saying he’s playing politics. “The Anglican Church is a political organisation when it is in England,” he told a press conference in Harare. “Rowan Williams was appointed by the Queen and the Prime Minister and he is a civil servant of Britain. He is a diplomat. He is coming to lobby for homosexuality and for him it is a timely move as we are making our constitution.” This is, of course, not accurate, but that hardly seems to matter to Kunonga, who added he had received no invitation to the mass service in Harare.

Faced with this kind of open hostility and Kunonga’s overt political big brother, Williams is unlikely to be able to bring about any kind of reconciliation between Zimbabwe’s Anglican Church and its breakaway faction. DM



Read more:

  • Archbishop of Canterbury starts central Africa trip on BBC News;
  • Kunonga scorns Williams visit in the New Zimbabwe.

Photo: REUTERS

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