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Forgotten faithful

As I left the Anglican church in a suburb of Harare, my Zimbabwean host said: ‘Don’t forget us.” Yet the persecution of Anglicans in the diocese of Harare, which is spreading, is being seen and remembered by few Christian communities around the world.

My hosts do not worship in the fine building that was built by the Anglicans themselves — some told me that they even made the bricks with their own hands, freely and willingly giving their labour as a gift to God — but in a colourful marquee in a supporter’s garden.

The marquee is so packed that some have to worship outside; the joy, energy and silences in the worship are indicators of the depth of commitment to God and one another. But not far beneath the surface is the pain of being exiles, forced from the spiritual home, built to the glory of God, that is rightly theirs.

Like all the congregations in the city and surrounding areas, they have been forced out of their place of worship by the police on the orders of Nolbert Kunonga, former bishop of Harare and avid supporter of Robert Mugabe.

Kunonga was elected bishop in 2001 but his increasingly pro-Zanu-PF political stance alienated many Anglicans and he withdrew himself from the church in 2007, taking the church’s assets with him, including cars, clergy houses and access to churches. There have been long and costly legal wrangles, but the courts are reluctant to rule that these assets, illegally held by Kunonga, do not belong to him.

Some court rulings, such as a decision that churches be used at different times by different groups, are flagrantly ignored by the former bishop, who has the power to summon police to support his cause. A small number of priests followed Kunonga and have remained in their vicarages mustering only a handful of people
into church on Sundays.

Kunonga has described Mugabe as a prophet and, like Mugabe, wanted to cut off links with the West and change the Anglican Church into a mouthpiece for Zanu-PF.

He failed in this and was told by the Church of the Province of Central Africa that he was no longer a bishop and has since taken every opportunity to identify the Anglican Church with the Movement for Democratic Change. This has attracted the ire of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF.

In Harare arrest, threats and beatings can be the rewards of Christian commitment. Congregations meet in a variety of locations. As well as in tents, worship takes place under trees, in street squares and in supporters’ gardens. But nowhere is safe.

One priest told me how his congregation of 1nbsp&000 was given permission by the authorities to meet close to the church building but, when they did so, 21 canisters of tear gas were fired into the gathering while they were worshipping. A group of women were detained for four days and he himself was arrested.

At the recent Bernard Mizeki festival, an annual gathering in honour of Zimbabwe’s first martyr, a heavily armed police force prevented the pilgrims from gaining access to the shrine, despite public assurances of safe passage from a government

The festival took place in a nearby showground, where the largest gathering in recent memory
was witness to the fact that persecution and harassment strengthen the Christian faith.

The Anglican Church’s persecution points to disarray within the government as well as the inexplicable influence of the disillusioned former cleric.

What is also inexplicable is the way in which the plight of Zimbabwe’s courageous Anglicans has
been ignored by so many. —

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Brian Castle
Brian Castle works from Hillsboro, OR. Observer. Enchanter. Chronic winker. #urbanfantasy #lgbtq #eaterofworlds #iartg #asmsg Author of the Adam Saint Books. Brian Castle has over 234 followers on Twitter.

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