The Devil must surely be laughing all the way to Hell as for the past two years Zimbabwe’s Anglicans have been fighting each other every Sunday as they battle for control of church assets and the right to worship. In fact fierce legal battles have ensued in the saga which has openly turned political since the Anglican Church in Harare split in 2007.
Scores of people have been injured in the skirmishes which have seen several parishioners in different Anglican parishes in and around Zimbabwe hospitalised.
At the centre of the controversy is Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, self confessed Zanu (PF) supporter, who is close to President Robert Mugabe.
Kunonga lost control of the church in 2007 after he withdrew his diocese from the Anglican Church Province of Central Africa, ostensibly in protest against the tolerance of homosexuality by Anglicans in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Mugabe is a well known anti-gay basher. At one-time he referred to homosexuals as “worse than pigs.”
But sources familiar with the Anglican Church saga say Kunonga has ably exploited the issue in order to ingratiate himself with President Mugabe so as to gain full control of the Anglican diocese in Harare, which has extensive assets, including farms.
Upon establishing his anti-gay independent Anglican church, he was replaced the Anglican Church Province of Central Africa who last July appointed a Bishop Chad Gandiya, sparking a bloody battle for the control of the church which has sucked in Zanu (PF) and the main faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
But of concern to the congregation has been the partisanship and bias of the Zimbabwe Republic Police. The police has ordered that only the Kunonga faction should worship in the Anglican premises.
An order from the police reads: “Officer-in-charge stations to engage dialogue with their local church leaders from both factions to ensure that one church service is done under KUNONGA.”
The Bishop Gandiya faction wants police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri, charged with contempt of court, for ignoring a court order which ruled that both factions share the premises for worship every Sunday.
The group maintains that Chihuri is biased against them, adding that they have evidence, that the commissioner-general connived with Bishop Kunonga to destabilise their church.
Kunonga argues that he won a Supreme Court challenge against a January 2008 ruling by the High Court allowing the two factions to share assets.
In December last year an Anglican priest, linked to Bishop Kunonga, assaulted a parishioner at the cathedral in Harare as the battle for control of the church properties continued to unabated.
Winston Zimunya sustained a deep cut above the right eye after the attack from what he said was a small knobkerrie. Zimunya is aligned to Bishop Gandiya while the priest who allegedly assaulted him is linked to Kunonga.
The Gandiya faction, which is being accused of supporting Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC T, has questioned the overzealousness of the police in thwarting any parishioners opposed to Kunonga’s take-over of the church premises despite the fact that “he fired himself” from the Anglican church by establishing his independent organisation.
A parishioner close to Kunonga, John Brown Shoko, told VOP that police were within their right to support Kunonga as he had obtained a High Court order stated that the Kunonga faction is the custodian of all Anglican Church properties.
“The Kunonga faction has the right to use the church properties, the other Gandiya faction and their gay people must continue to worship under trees or hire venues. They have the money from their western funders,” said Shoko. “We are defending our turf. The police and the courts are behind us, so there is no way we can let these MDC T people take over our church so that they accommodate gays. Over our dead bodies,” he said.
Farai Shumba, Glen View parishioner defended Bishop Gandiya’s faction, saying the problems afflicting the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe were political.
“What is needed is a political solution. The three principals in the Global Political Agreement should move with speed to solve the problem before someone is killed. Some parishioners are now moving armed because the fight gets dirty every Sunday,” said Shumba who has been an Anglican Church member for the past 30 years.
“Bishop Kunonga, who was removed from the church, is using his connections with Zanu (PF) to destroy the church,” he said.
Eric Matinenga, the minister of Constitutional Affairs, who happens to be an Anglican, says the issue is of great concern to the coalition government.
“The matter has been brought before cabinet and the cabinet has tasked the Organ on National Healing and Reconciliation, headed by vice President John Nkomo to look into it with a view of finding a solution,” Matinenga told Radio VOP.
Other members of the Organ on National Healing and Reconciliation include ministers Sekai Holland (MDC T) and Gibson Sibanda (MDC M).
On his part, Vice President Nkomo has held several meetings with “the warring parties” in desperate attempts to keep the Devil away from the Anglican Church. Nkomo has met both bishops. But despite this intervention, tensions have remained high with the police on stand-by at most of the church premises to quell any violence.
“We are looking into the issue. I have been in touch with the people involved and we will be arriving at a solution,” said Nkomo, who doubles up as Zanu (PF)’s vice president or second secretary.
“I am sure we are going to find a solution. The church is supposed to be a church for worship but what we have is the church being turned into a sparring ring,” he said. “We can’t allow this. God will judge us harshly when judgment day comes.”
Bosman said that Nkwinti’s statement that the transfer of land to small-scale emerging farmers would not threaten food security contradicted his own admission in Parliament “that 90% of transformed land failed to maintain production and in most cases is not producing anything at all”.
Groenewald said it was time for Joemat-Pettersson to act on Nkwinti’s statements.
“Farmers need security, you must act.” He said the statements on nationalisation and Zimbabwe-style land reform were a direct threat to food security in SA.