Zimbabwe‘s top Anglican bishop has said that a breakaway church leader close to the country’s president is intensifying a campaign to seize church properties that include missions, schools and priests’ homes.
Bishop Chad Gandiya, leader of the mainstream Anglican group, said a new wave of evictions has even targeted an orphanage.
Breakaway Bishop Nolbert Kunonga claims to lead Zimbabwe’s Anglicans and has already refused to hand back the Harare Cathedral, offices, buildings, church bank accounts and vehicles he seized with the protection of police loyal to President Robert Mugabe.
In 2007, Kunonga was excommunicated by the main Anglican Province of Central Africa and the worldwide head of the church after he was accused of inciting violence in sermons supporting Mugabe’s party.
The schism in the Zimbabwe’s Anglican community has left mainstream Anglicans without places of worship and they have experienced intimidation and alleged threats of violence.
Gandiya told the Associated Press that unknown intruders broke into his home on Thursday. He said he was suspicious of their motives after they stole only mobile phones and computers containing diocese files. Prior to the break-in, Gandiya had sought legal action against the new evictions and property seizures.
“The coincidence is too much,” he said.
On Tuesday, police arrested an Anglican priest loyal to the mainstream group in Harare for alleged theft of church property. The Rev Julius Zimbudzana was held in police cells for 48 hours then released without charge because of lack of evidence.
Court officials in Murewa on Tuesday served eviction orders to St. John’s mission and the Shearly Cripps orphanage, home to more than 100 children and named after its founder, an Anglo-American missionary who died in 1952, lawyers for Gandiya said. Murewa is about 60 miles east of Harare.
“We are refusing to vacate. We have to find alternative accommodation for the nuns and teachers. And who will look after the children? Where will they go?” Gandiya said.
He said attempts were also being made to order priests and staff to leave another mission and school near Masvingo in southern Zimbabwe and there were fears the breakaway faction would not provide qualified replacements.
Gandiya’s attorneys said the evictions follow a flawed ruling last month by Zimbabwe’s supreme court that allowed Kunonga to retain control of Anglican properties until a court appeal by the Gandiya-led church is resolved. That ruling was made by chief justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, who, like Kunonga, is an open supporter of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.
Kunonga insists he broke away from the mainstream Anglicans after the church in Britain recognised gay marriage and the rights of same sex partners. Mugabe is a bitter critic of homosexuality.
Witnesses in the western Harare township of Mbare said their Anglican priest was evicted last month from his rectory, but travels back from a village outside the city to meet congregants on Sundays. Other Anglicans across the city use public halls and some Roman Catholic buildings for their activities.
Pro-Gandiya worshippers barred by police and Kunonga loyalists from the Harare Cathedral and a main Anglican church in the upmarket suburb of Borrowdale also hold services in private homes and gardens.
“This is what we are dealing with every day. Our congregations get discouraged but we must remain resolute. As always, Kunonga’s people can do what they want without restraint,” Gandiya said.
The worldwide head of the church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wants to meet Mugabe in October to discuss the tensions.