Anglican outrage as archbishop drops Kunonga charges


HARARE – The senior Anglican prelate in Central Africa has dropped all charges against Harare

ITY>’s controversial Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, an ardent supporter of the Mugabe regime, causing outrage in the church and demands for the trial to resume.

Diocese of Harare Chancellor Bob Stumbles, a leading lawyer, learned only through press reports in Russia’s Pravda and Zimbabwe’s state-run Herald that Archbishop Bernard Malango of Malawi, the head of the Church of the Province of Central Africa, had ordered that the charges be dropped. The string of charges, brought by mostly black parishioners and priests, ranged from incitement to commit murder to bringing the church into disrepute.

“The time has come to speak out against what is turning out to be a travesty of justice,” Stumbles declared in a statement last week. He said the archbishop had no right under church laws to make this ruling and that Kunonga’s trial must resume.

Stumbles, a well-known lawyer who is also the Deputy Chancellor of the Anglican Central Africa province covering Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, said the archbishop’s unilateral ruling violated “the laws of evidence, the laws of the church and natural justice.” “It is submitted that his ruling is null and void and that the archbishop has not fulfilled his lawful obligation as holder of that office,” added Stumbles.

Originally, the ecclesiastical trial of Kunonga was ordered by the archbishop. The hearing convened in Harare last August and quickly turned into a farce, getting bogged down in technicalities raised by Kunonga’s lawyers before the judge, James Kalaile of Malawi’s Supreme Court, announced he was standing down and would ask the archbishop to appoint another judge.

For six months, the archbishop dodged demands for the trial to resume under another judge. Then came the report by Pravda. The agency quoted unidentified officials at the Harare diocese as saying that the archbishop in a letter dated December 19 last year had informed the region’s 12 bishops that the case against Kunonga had been dropped, adding: “The matter is closed and cannot be revived.”

Kunonga, 55, has long been a controversial figure. His activities range from preaching sermons in support of Mugabe and the ruling Zanu (PF) party; receiving at least two seized white-owned farms; trying to ban the duly elected church council of Harare’s Cathedral of St. Mary’s and All Saints; to allegedly seeking help from state security agents and militant war veterans to have 10 parishioners and priests killed because they opposed his tenure.

When the ecclesiastical trial opened briefly in Harare it was filled with black Anglicans ready to give evidence against the bishop. One priest, the Rev. James Mukunga, who fled Zimbabwe in 2004, submitted an affidavit that the bishop had sought to murder critics.

The hearing ended before Kunonga was asked to plead. But he appeared delighted at the outcome, emerging from the court-room wearing a cerise cassock and claiming victory.

There was no immediate explanation of why Archbishop Malango has apparently decided to try to suppress the matter and clear Harare’s embarrassing bishop, who is among the supporters of the regime named in a U.S. travel ban. Malango said in his letter to the bishops that anyone seeking to bring charges against a bishop must not raise “purely administrative issues masked as canonical offences.”

‘This veiled threat against the persons whose very complaints the archbishop once recognised as triable is ill-founded and misleading,” said Stumbles, adding that the laws of the church province make no distinction between “canonical” and “purely administrative” offences.

Stumbles said Archbishop Malango has “no jurisdiction to interrupt or close the trial, which he himself ordered to take place, nor does he have the right to usurp the authority of the court. He does, however have the right and duty to make sure the case is resumed.”

“The archbishop needs to be called upon to comply with the laws of the province, appoint another judge immediately and reconvene the court forthwith,” he added.

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