Kunonga part of Mugabe’s grand plan

Some ill-informed or misguided people refer to a split in the Anglican Church with followers aligning themselves to one diocese led by Bishop Chad Gandiya and others to another led by Bishop Nolbert Kunonga. Others talk and write about there now being a Kunonga faction and a Gandiya faction in the Anglican Church.

Nolbert Kunonga
Nolbert Kunonga

There is no such thing. The truth is that Kunonga, who was Bishop of Harare, rebelled against the Church, was kicked out and formed his own church which can never be an Anglican church. In Zimbabwe there is today one Anglican Church, which has so far proved to be very united. Officially it is known as the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa – which covers Zambia, Botswana, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

When Kunonga was elected Bishop of the Diocese of Harare in 1997, he was a strong Zanu (PF) supporter, who hero- worshiped President Robert Mugabe. Anglicans saw nothing wrong about this since the church was composed of people supporting different political parties. However, their support for him turned into dismay for he immediately went about “decolonizing” the Church by preaching hatred against whites.

He even removed plaques from the Anglican Cathedral walls of those who founded and contributed to the building of the cathedral because they were “white colonialists”. In fact, he was attempting to turn the Church into a Zanu (PF) supporting political institution. This was at a time when other Christian leaders, notably, Bishop Pius Ncube of the Roman Catholic Church were criticising Mugabe’s government for its human rights excesses.

In 2003, the Zanu (PF) government gave Kunonga a 1,630-acre farm with a seven-bedroom house, worth over $1 million as a reward for his efforts in promoting the party. It had been confiscated from its white owner without compensation.

Church leaders rebuked Kunonga for preaching partisan politics from the pulpit. His response was to pour scorn on them. There was nothing they could do. They decided that he was not fit to be a Bishop of the Anglican Church and dethroned him in January, 2008. Kunonga did not accept his dethronement with humility. Instead, he decided to form his own church.

Kunonga, like all Zimbabweans, knew that Mugabe, hated homosexuality. He, therefore, announced that he was breaking away from the Anglican Church because it condoned homosexuality. This was, of course a blatant lie. The Anglican Church was left with no option but to excommunicate him and consecrate retired Bishop Sebastian Bakare to replace him.

Kunonga left the Church with about 50 followers to form what he calls the Anglican Church of the Province of Zimbabwe. It would have been more realistic if he had called it the Mbuya Nehanda Church of Zimbabwe.

He refused to accept his dismissal and insisted that he was still bishop of Harare and that all church properties belonged to him. Most Church members refused to support him, even some leading Zanu (PF) supporters in and out of government. Kunonga, however, had the support of President Mugabe for it was he who had administered the oath of office to Mugabe after the questionable 2008 presidential re-run which was boycotted by Morgan Tsvangirai because of violence. The dethronement of Kunonga might, therefore, have led some to question Mugabe’s own legitimacy as President.

When Bishop Bakare assumed his duties at the Anglican Cathedral in Harare, Kunonga retaliated by unleashing violence against Anglican worshipers. In this he was assisted by Zanu (PF) thugs and the police. Worshipers were barred from entering Church buildings. Lay-leaders and priests were arrested and beaten.

A court ruling by Justice Rita Makarau determined that the two groups should share the church buildings by worshipping at different times until a final determination by the High Court. After the ruling Kunonga continued to harass Anglican worshippers and one day even physically attacked Bishop Bakare. The police continued to support and assist him in violation of the court ruling.

In March 2009, the whole country was shocked when a resident of Harare was shot and injured as police fought running battles with parishioners who wanted to worship in the Anglican Cathedral. After a while Canon Chad Gandiya was ordained Bishop of the Diocese of Harare and Bakare was able to go back into his deserved retirement.

In July 2009, High Court Judge, Justice Ben Hlatshwayo ruled in favour of Kunonga in the property dispute. The newly consecrated Bishop Gandiya immediately appealed that ruling in the Supreme Court. Over a year later Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku shocked the world by upholding Hlatshwayo’s ruling granting Kunonga control over all Anglican assets in Harare.

After the Chidyausiku ruling “all hell broke loose,” as the saying goes. Kunonga, with the help of the police, violently seized control of church properties including schools, churches, orphanages, rectories. Priests, nuns and teachers have been evicted from their homes and workplaces and have been replaced by suspected Zanu (PF) faithful s without any training at all. Kunonga has also been busy ordaining priests with no theological background at all.

Some of the properties, including churches, have been turned into businesses and brothels. Hardly a day goes by without some newspaper headline screaming about some outrageous and unbecoming act by Kunonga. In actual fact, by his actions, he has proved that he has conclusively proved that he is neither a bishop nor a Christian.

Kunonga is not acting in isolation. True, he is greedy for wealth and power but he is also part of a grand plan by the powers that be to control the whole organized Church – from the traditional missionary-founded denominations to the indigenous apostolic groups.

What Kunonga and his allies are doing makes a lot of sense, warped as it may be. Eighty percent of Zimbabweans are professing Christians. That is a decisive vote in any political contest. Kunonga is not motivated by religious or spiritual fervour. He is just a key actor in a clever and vicious, but misguided, political strategy. In Zimbabwe the Anglican Church was regarded as dangerous because of its independence and influence as well as its umbilical connection to the hated British. All that had to be broken through the only method they know, which is violence.

As I write, the violence against the Anglican Church has worsened. In a recent press release the Diocese detailed the turn of events in the whole country. It said, “Clergy and members of the laity belonging to the Anglican Diocese of Harare (CPCA) across Harare, Mashonaland West, East and Central have been receiving threats, constant harassment and lately severe beatings from Kunonga’s hooligans, masquerading as clergy, accompanied by “certainly hired thugs.” Many are now waiting, with much anticipation and bated breath, for the forthcoming visit to Zimbabwe of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is also head of the international Anglican Church Communion.

Recently, Gandiya was brutalised by thugs in his own home and robbed of his laptop, money and cell phone at gunpoint. The arrest and persecution of Anglican priests and church leaders has also increased with savage intensity. However, in the midst of all this confusion and suffering, the bishop said he was encouraged by the faith, commitment and courage of his Anglican Church followers.

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