Harare – Armed riot police prevented Harare’s beleagured Anglican congregations from worshipping in their churches on Sunday in defiance of a supreme court order. Police moved into the gardens of Anglican churches around the city from early morning and senior officers telephoned priests and warned them not to try and hold services yesterday. Two weeks ago the usually pro-government Supreme Court of Zimbabwe dismissed an application by Nolbert Kunonga, the former Bishop of Harare, to take control all Harare’s 58 Anglican churches. Mr Kunonga, who is an avid supporter of President Robert Mugabe and was given a 1600 acre white-owned farm in 2003, was sacked by the Church of the Province of Central Africa last November. The city’s Anglican community openly support Bishop Sebastian Bakare who was brought out of retirement to replace Mr Kunonga as Bishop of Harare.
Shortly after Zanu PF and Mr Mugabe lost elections on March 29, the police and intelligence operatives began harassing priests and communities. A week ago scores were beaten up during a service in St Francis Church, in Waterfalls suburb, south of Harare. This week the police have taken over the remainder of Harare’s Anglican churches. “The police telephoned us early in the morning and told us not to hold a service today,” said a priest from one of the city’s oldest churches in the southern part of the city. Some of our congregation were beaten up the previous Sunday, so after the phone call I drove around the church and saw many armed policemen there so we cannot worship there today. There are too many women and children in the congregation, we can’t expose them to this danger. Please do not use my name or the name of the church as we are trying to protect our families.” Bishop Bakare said on Sunday: “I will ask other religious leaders in Harare to lend us their churches from next Sunday so our congregations can continue to worhsip. We will also sue the commissioner of police next week. We know the orders are coming from high up, not from ordinary policemen.”
The Anglican Church community split when Mr Kunonga accused Anglicans world wide of promoting homosexuality. It was on this pretext that he claimed to have taken Zimbabwe’s Anglicans out of the province of Central Africa and formed the Zimbabwe province. He ordained dozens of “priests” in a hurry and the High Court then ordered him to share Anglican facilities and assets with Bishop Bakare. He appealed this to the Supreme Court and lost. “Since the elections the pressure has been on and Anglican priests and communities are being questioned by intelligence people. We are accused of supporting the MDC,” a priest said on Sunday. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change won the parliamentary election and its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, defeated Mr Mugabe in the presidential poll. But official results said he failed to win more than 50 percent and so a second round will be held on June 27. Zimbabwe’s only Anglican cathedral St Mary’s and All Saints in central Harare is kept locked 24 hours a day and is used briefly each Sunday for a service for a few dozen of Mr Kunonga’s supporters.