Zanu-PF's bid to make inroads into the church to garner votes for next year's election has suffered a major setback.
Its ally in the Anglican church, Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, was ordered by the supreme court to vacate the church premises. Kunonga is widely seen by political observers as having played a crucial role in campaigning for President Robert Mugabe in the last election in 2008 and was expected to play a leading role in the next poll.
The court ruling now brings to an end nearly five years of strife between Kunonga and his rival Bishop Chad Gandiya, who has challenged Kunonga's leadership of the Anglican diocese in Harare since 2007.
Kunonga, an open supporter of Mugabe and Zanu-PF, stood firm in his refusal to hand over the church property following his excommunication. Kunonga clashed with the Anglican leadership over its views on homosexuality and for inciting violence in sermons supporting Mugabe's Zanu-PF party. Parishioners under Gandiya worshiped under trees after Kunonga embarked on a countrywide crusade to evict his rivals from church premises, taking over orphanages, church buildings and schools.
Attempts by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to stop the clashes failed last year because Kunonga refused to meet him. Mugabe said he had no know-ledge of the events in the church after Williams presented him with a dossier detailing the attacks led by Kunonga. A high court ruling in favour of Kunonga last year by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyauski appeared to strengthen his belligerent stance further; Chidyauski allowed Kunonga to take over the church cathedral, administrative offices, bank accounts and vehicles.
On Monday, Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba, delivering a supreme court judgment, said Chidyauski "was wrong" to have ruled in favour of Kunonga at the expense of thousands of worshippers prejudiced by his claim to church property.
"When one leaves a club, he or she does not take its property with him or her. It has long been established as a salutary principle of law in this area of property ownership that when one or more people secede from an existing church, they have no right to claim church property, even if those remaining members of the congregation are in the minority," said Malaba.
Political analyst Dumisani Nkomo said: "Zanu-PF has now lost legitimacy in laying claim to one of the institutions that it had hoped to infiltrate and use for electioneering purposes.
"It is true that it has lost the fight legally and politically, but I don't see it just giving up. It will try to use other means and perhaps seek to try to divide the church."
Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo distanced the party from the Anglican church row and said the issue was a matter for the courts to decide.