Turning the other cheek

Dear Family and Friends,

When the Archbishop of Canterbury came to Zimbabwe last week it gave us all a lift, regardless of our religious persuasions. Here was a man who had the courage to say it like it is, something we’ve been sadly starved of for the last two and a half years. Zimbabweans are frazzled, worn down and bone tired of the platitudes and diplomatic niceties that have come to characterise our once firebrand politicians. None of our leaders say it like it is anymore and that made the visit of the Archbishop even more refreshing.

The Anglican Archbishop didn’t mince his words in a sermon he gave to the multiple thousands of people who had gathered at the City Sports Centre in Harare. To outsiders it may have seemed strange that Archbishop Rowan Williams was addressing Anglicans in a sports stadium rather than in the Cathedral.

But he couldn’t because the previous, and ex-communicated Bishop, Nolbert Kunonga, has taken over the Harare Cathedral and 40 percent of other Anglican churches in the country.

Kunonga is an open supporter of Zanu (PF) and has described President Mugabe as a “prophet from God.” Speaking to the press at the Harare Cathedral, Kunonga said that Archbishop Rowan Williams was no threat to him. “I am in charge of the church, of all its properties. I am in the cathedral. That's my throne. He cannot come here,” he said.

In the last few months Kunonga got a court ruling and started taking over church houses, schools, clinics and orphanages, evicting anyone who does not support his breakaway church. Harassed, intimidated, beaten, arrested and locked out of their churches, Anglicans have been hounded by Kunonga and his band of followers. They have taken to holding religious services in private homes, tents and even under trees. It is a truly humbling sight to witness this vast body of people turning the other cheek.

In his sermon at the sports centre, the Archbishop’s references to events of the last decade were obvious. He said: “God has given so many gifts to this land. It has the capacity to feed all its people and more. Its mineral wealth is great. But we have seen years in which the land has not been used to feed people and lies idle; and we have begun to see how this mineral wealth can become a curse…” Weaving his message into biblical references, Zimbabweans knew exactly who the Archbishop was talking about when he asked if we could hear the voice of the Creator saying: “ ‘Why will you turn my gifts into an excuse for bloodshed? Why will you not use what you have for the good of a community, not for private gain or political advantage?’ ”

The day after delivering his sermon, the Archbishop met President and gave him a dossier detailing abuses being suffered by Anglicans in Zimbabwe. The Archbishop asked him to guarantee the safety of worshippers and “put an end to illegal and unacceptable behaviour.”

The Archbishop then went on a visit to Manicaland and described how he met Anglicans in the area: “They gathered at the roadside to meet us, they gathered in extremely smelly disused cinemas to meet us and in the middle of a field. …It's been hugely moving and I'm very glad I came."

This stoicism and continual turning of the other cheek in the face of violence, oppression and blatant theft has become the national character of Zimbabwe; it has become our middle name.

Until next week, thanks for reading, Ndini shamwari yenyu.

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