By Nigel Hangarume
Harare – Zimbabwean police, some of them armed, on Sunday stormed the Anglican Cathedral in Harare and forced out worshippers who have refused to support controversial Bishop and prominent government ally, Nolbert Kunonga. Anglican parishioners in the Diocese of Harare have been split between Kunonga and the man who was chosen to replace him, Bishop Sebastian Bakare. Kunonga – who has tried to defend President Robert Mugabe’s controversial policies from the pulpit – was deemed to have resigned from the Anglican Church last September when he unilaterally pulled out the Diocese of Harare, which he led, from the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) ostensibly over the homosexuality issue. Last week, 20 parishes in Harare resolved to hold separate church services under Bakare’s leadership. But the Bakare faction’s church services were disrupted midway through by anti-riot police officers who said they only recognised Kunonga as the head of the Harare diocese. Parishioners at the St Mary’s Cathedral and among them a Zim Online correspondent, were given 10 minutes to disperse from the hall in which they were holding a service at the same time with Kunonga’s faction which was in the main church. Police have in the past been called in to quell violent skirmishes blamed on Kunonga’s supporters.
Police spokesman Olivier Mandipaka denied the police targeted Bakare’s supporters on Sunday, insisting the law enforcement agency had intervened only to ensure peace and did not back any of the two factions. “We intervene only to ensure peace . . . The issue of who is who in the church wrangle does not concern us,” said Mandipaka. The CPCA last week announced Kunonga’s clergyman’s licence and those of the priests in his faction had automatically been revoked because they had refused to be bound by the laws of the province. A case is before Zimbabwe’s courts to force Kunonga to hand over the Harare diocese’s property in his possession. In a swift response, Kunonga on Saturday announced he had formed the Church of the Province of Zimbabwe, which is divided into five dioceses – Harare, Chitungwiza, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland West. Kunonga said only priests licensed by his new province would be allowed to conduct church services. “After the several meetings that we had, the skirmishes will be a thing of the past,” Kunonga said. “No unlicensed priest will go and conduct a church service at any parish. No parallel services will be allowed in the parishes. The board of trustees of the Diocese of Harare is the custodian of all properties of the diocese and no one other than licensed personnel will be allowed to use our facilities.”