Like Mr. Mugabe, who encouraged the violent confiscation of white-owned commercial farms, Mr. Kunonga casts himself as a nationalist leader who is Africanizing a church associated with British colonialism.
Mr. Kunonga, who earned a Ph.D. in religious studies from Northwestern University and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary outside Chicago, says that his success in controlling church properties is due to the persuasiveness of his legal arguments in court, not Mr. Mugabe’s influence.
“I’m superior intellectually and from a legal point of view,” he said. “I’m very superior to them.”
He vociferously supports Mr. Mugabe, and like many loyalists, he has been richly rewarded. The ZANU-PF government bestowed on him a prized commercial farm confiscated from white owners. Mr. Kunonga argued that his forebears had lived on that very spot for centuries and that he was just repossessing what was rightfully his.
“Politics can only help us take what we cannot take by ourselves,” he said. “That’s what Mugabe did. That’s why he’s so dear.”
Mr. Kunonga often echoes Mr. Mugabe’s favorite themes, including the president’s loathing for homosexuality. This issue provided Mr. Kunonga’s rationale for withdrawing from the mainline Anglican church in 2007.
He claimed homosexual priests and congregants had gained influence in the church, though mainline church leaders here, as a matter of policy, do not conduct same-sex marriages or ordain gay priests. Bishops in the mainline church saw Mr. Kunonga’s move as a power grab.
As Zimbabwe’s economy spiraled downward in 2008 — with millions hungry, thousands dying of cholera and deadly political violence against Mr. Mugabe’s opponents — riot police officers drove Anglican parishioners from the churches. In an October 2008 letter to the police commissioner, included in a dossier compiled by the mainline church, Mr. Kunonga listed parishes that needed “monitoring.”
“We support the ruling party and we shall keep praying for peace and sanity under the leadership of President Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe,” Mr. Kunonga wrote the police commissioner.
Most Anglicans in Harare have remained in congregations under Bishop Gandiya and the global Anglican Communion. They have been barred from worshiping in Anglican churches, gathering instead in rented churches and schools, open fields, even cemeteries. The police have interpreted court rulings as giving the Kunonga faction control of church properties.
The archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, who leads the Anglican Communion, wrote Mr. Mugabe this year, beseeching him to stop “the continuing bullying, harassment and persecution” of Anglicans in Zimbabwe — but received no reply, the archbishop’s press secretary said.
One recent Sunday morning, the magnificent Anglican Cathedral in downtown Harare, once thronged by thousands of congregants, was mostly empty. Mr. Kunonga sat among a smattering of parishioners.
Not far away, a thousand Anglicans packed a plain rented church not under his authority. Beneath bare light bulbs dangling from unfinished rafters, they joyously danced and sang to the beat of drums and listened raptly to their charismatic young priest, Barnabas Munzwandi.
As the priest’s voice wafted into the yard outside where the overflow crowd sat on the grass, Victoria Ngwere, a 38-year-old housewife, explained that she had pushed her son, Raymond, miles in his wheelchair to get to services rather than attend a Kunonga church nearer her home.
“Here I can feel free,” she said.
This ACNS article, which keeps the Commumion membership posted on the situation in Zimbabwe, continues the sorry saga of Mugabe’s felonius intent to crush the voice of the Church in that country. His obvious alliance with disgraced ex-Anglican Bishop Kunonga – whom he has rewarded with many concessions to operate officially as the ‘lawful’ head of the Anglican Church in Harare, even though he has been replaced on that position by Bishop Gandiya – has ensured that loyal Anglicans in Zimbabwe continue to suffer at the hands of the police and the military – even to the point of death in some instances.
Both Mugabe and Kunonga have a well-documented hatred of homosexuals – one reason given by the former Anglican Bishop for his alliance to the President, and his departure from fellowship with the Anglican Communion. Whatever others may think about this excuse for their alliance, there must be something much deeper involved.
The sooner the United Nations does something constructive about Mugabe’s despotic rule in Zimbabwe, the better it will be for the Anglican Church there. However, as a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church, Mugabe has already criticised those Church officials who have expressed their unease about his treatment of fellow Christians. Let’s hope the U.N. can at least do something about the upcoming election in Zimbabwe – to ensure it is conducted with at least a modicum of fairness.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch