Shameful silence on Nolbert Kunonga

nolbert_kunongaBY SOKWANELE On 21st September 2004 we published an article entitled "His disgrace, the Bishop" in which we drew attention to the disgraceful conduct of the Anglican Bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga, in not only accepting St Marnock's Farm, a once-thriving commercial enterprise in Nyabiri as a toke

n of personal thanks from Robert Mugabe for his uncritical and unwavering support for ZANU (PF), but then promptly arranging for party militia to brutally evict 40 families of workers from their dwellings in a village on the farm. We suggested at the time that rather than “His grace the Bishop” a more appropriate appellation would be “His disgrace the Bishop”. This was neither the first nor by any means the last action of the errant cleric to bring shame on his church. From the time of his disputed election as Bishop of Harare in 2001 to the present he has made no secret either of his personal ambitions for fame and fortune or of his willingness to exploit his sycophantic relationship to Robert Mugabe and the ruling elite to feed those ambitions. The episcopal election itself was shrouded in mystery and marred by widespread allegations that Kunonga had used his influence with the ruling party to secure the post. Certainly he has not lost an opportunity since to sing the praises of his hero, Mugabe, or to make life extremely uncomfortable for those within the church who would dare to raise a voice of dissent. At least 12 priests have left the Harare Diocese as a direct result of the bishop’s political machinations. In August 2005 he appeared before an ecclesiastical court to face 38 charges arising from scores of complaints (all but three of which were from black parishioners). The charges included incitement to murder, intimidating critics, ignoring church law, mishandling church funds and bringing militant ZANU (PF) politics to the pulpit. In December the court hearing before a Malawian judge collapsed in disarray without proper explanation and the head of the Anglican Province of Central Africa, Archbishop Amos Malingo of Zambia, then informed church leaders in the province that the case against Kunonga had been dropped. The unsatisfactory outcome of the case has again raised questions of the extent of ZANU (PF)’s political leverage within the Anglican Church. In what may not have been an unrelated incident, Bishop Kunonga recently went out of his way to ingratiate himself with Vice President Joseph Msika. Msika, who is a long-standing member of the Anglican Church, was on 16th December, at the instigation of the bishop, appointed a lay minister. According to the report of the ceremony which appeared in the ZANU (PF)-controlled newspaper, The Herald, Msika’s appointment was “one of the highest honours the church can confer upon an individual” and was given in recognition of “the sterling work he had done for both the church and the country”. According to the same report in The Herald, Msika indicated that he felt “very humbled” by the church’s gesture. His humility however, or lack of it, is not the point. The point is rather that prior to this event the common understanding in the Anglican Communion (and other churches) was that the appointment of a member of the church as a lay minister or “reader” connoted simply a willingness of that member to serve under the authority and discipline of the church. The term “minister” means one who serves, and in the church invariably in response to a divine call to a particular work. The term describes a particular role or office within the church and was never intended as a mark of status or honour. Indeed to suggest as Kunonga does that it implies an elevated status based on meritorious achievement (rather like an honorary degree conferred by a university) reduces it to a caricature of the real thing – and one would have expected that a bishop of all people would have known better. Moreover in the Anglican tradition a lay minister or reader is a local appointment normally made by the rector in consultation with the lay leadership of the parish church. Here again Kunonga appears to be casting aside long-standing tradition to fashion a new creature of his own making. That the appointment of Msika to this office should be made by the bishop and that the bishop should say (as he is reported in The Herald) that “the honour mandated Cde Msika to preach, officiate and perform other duties as may be directed by the bishop at any church in or under the jurisdiction of the Harare diocese” is totally unprecedented. The inference is inescapable; in his feverish haste to ingratiate himself with his political masters, Kunonga has once again made clear his willingness to ride roughshod over hallowed church tradition. Indeed one may well speculate that his efforts to legitimize an illegitimate regime are closely linked to the more than convenient dropping of the extremely serious charges which were pending against him in the ecclesiastical courts. But there was even more that emerged from the bizarre proceedings that took place at St Alban’s Mission in Chiweshe on 16th December. The Herald report mentions in passing that four assistant priests were ordained at the same time. Our enquiries however have revealed that the four priests in question neither attended Gaul House in Harare, the normal training centre for Anglican priests, nor did they receive any other recognised theological training. In effect Bishop Kunonga is ordaining untrained men to the priesthood, and this we understand as a deliberate strategy to counter the influence of those who, in passing through the Gaul House preparation for ministry, have acquired a measure of political objectivity and spiritual maturity. Kunonga’s tactics here resemble nothing so much as the ZANU (PF) tactics in appointing their “green bombers” or brainwashed thugs to take over from the professionals wherever it suits them. In short, the conduct of this delinquent bishop raises very serious questions for the Anglican Church. Given that the incitement to murder and other charges against Kunonga have now been dropped by the ecclesiastical courts, and without satisfactory explanation, the question is what other steps may be taken in to rein in such a church leader who is clearly abusing his powers shamelessly for his own personal advantage. At a time when Zimbabweans are in desperate need of clear moral guidance (and example) from the Church, here we have a caricature of a spiritual leader. Is the Anglican Church unaware of the huge damage he is inflicting on both church and nation? Or do they not care? Strangely we hear not a murmur of concern or disquiet from any other leader of that denomination. His disgrace Bishop Kunonga is bringing untold shame upon the church. Yet even more shameful is the silence of those we might have expected to challenge or confront this eccentric cleric. A Latin proverb comes to mind: “Qui tacet consentire videtur”, or in common English: “He who keeps silent apparently approves”.

Post published in: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *