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Zimbabwe Anglicans face ‘communist-style’ persecution, says bishop


An Anglican leader in Zimbabwe says members of his church fear persecution, as police in Harare barred worshippers from attending church services at the city’s Anglican cathedral.

The action by armed police came after former Anglican bishop Nolbert Kunonga filed a claim in Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court claiming control of church property.

Witnesses told Ecumenical News International that police officers barred them from entering the cathedral in central Harare on 4 May for their main church service.

"There was supposed to be a baptism ceremony but it was called off after police stopped them from entering the church yard," said a parishioner. "We wanted to hold our church service as usual in the shed, but we were not allowed even to use the that."

The cathedral is at the centre of a fight between the Harare diocese of the (Anglican) Church of the Province of Central Africa led by Bishop Sebastian Bakare, and Kunonga and his self-styled Anglican Province of Zimbabwe. Kunonga was stripped of his licence as a priest in 2007 after he withdrew his diocese from the Anglican province of central Africa over what he said was its failure to condemn the ordination of homosexual bishops.

The latest twist to the church feud came a week after riot police broke up a gathering of about 3200 members of the Mothers’ Union taking place in Mbare, a high-density southern suburb of Harare.

Reports said that a truckload of police arrived as Ruth Bakare, the wife of the Harare bishop, was addressing the women. Mrs Bakare continued to speak until a second truckload arrived.

Bishop Bakare said the events were reminiscent of the persecution of Christian in communist states. "The events of the past weekend have led me to believe that there is a deliberate attempt to persecute Anglican Christians in this diocese," the bishop said in a statement.

"At least 3200 members of the Mothers’ Union had gathered at St Michael’s in Mbare to commemorate Mary’s Day and they were chased away by riot police under so-called directives from above," the bishop stated. "As a bishop of the diocese I was reminded of Christian churches who were persecuted in communist countries before the fall of the Iron Curtain."

Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena confirmed the deployment of police at the Harare cathedral, saying they were there to prevent clashes between the factions.

Reports from other parishes in the Zimbabwe capital said worshippers were only allowed into church buildings after supporters of Kunonga had held their own services.

Zimbabwe’s high court on 2 May ordered the two Anglican groups to share church property. Kunonga immediately appealed against the ruling in the Supreme Court claiming his province of Zimbabwe had the right to control the church property.

The dismissed bishop is a renowned supporter of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe. The president gave Kunonga a farm confiscated from a white farmer during land seizures by the ruling party, which said it was redistributing land to black people who form the vast majority of Zimbabwe’s 12 million population. The Zimbabwe government has seized land belonging to nearly all of Zimbabwe’s 4500 white commercial farmers since 2000.

Ecumenical News International