Harare – President Robert Mugabe’s regime has shut down Zimbabwe’s Anglican Church, turning baton-wielding riot police on congregations and rendering it impossible for priests to conduct services. When Anglicans go to worship tomorrow, they will not venture inside their own churches, almost all of which have been closed by police. Instead, for the first time, they will join Catholics, Methodists and Presbyterians, who will open their services to embattled Anglicans. The prime cause of the Church’s collapse is Nolbert Kunonga, the renegade Anglican Bishop of Harare and a staunch supporter of Mr Mugabe who once called his leader a “prophet of God”. Last year, Mr Kunonga withdrew from the Anglican Communion, supposedly to protest against homosexuality. But the Church says he was sacked and a new Bishop of Harare, Sebastian Bakare, appointed in his place.
Mr Kunonga, 58, refused to leave office. Instead, he occupied Harare’s Anglican cathedral of St Mary’s and All Saints, seized the Church’s bank accounts and made dozens of his friends priests or bishops. Despite being officially excommunicated on Monday, he still conducts services for a handful of followers inside the cathedral. Most importantly, he has accused Bishop Bakare of supporting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and plotting with Gordon Brown to overthrow Mr Mugabe. Consequently, the state has intervened on Mr Kunonga’s side. When Anglicans gather for services, the regime believes they are backing Bishop Bakare – and therefore the MDC. Riot police have duly been turned on congregations. Tsitsi Guramatunhu was among 400 worshippers when police raided St Francis church two weeks ago. First they beat the choir with batons. Then they assaulted people kneeling before the altar.
“They stormed into the church and beat people as they went. They told us we must either worship at the Kunonga service or not at all,” said Mrs Guramatunhu, 44. “I tried to take a picture of them with my cell phone so they beat me.” Last Sunday, riot police deployed again and surrounded St Francis church. “We will worship at another church on Sunday. We will not give up,” said Mrs Guramatunhu. Bishop Bakare, 66, told The Daily Telegraph that riot police had attacked “nearly all” of Harare’s 58 Anglican churches last Sunday. “People are too scared to try to worship in their churches in case they are beaten,” he said. “Other faiths have offered us their churches and their halls. So the police may want to follow the Anglicans to beat them up in those places. But then they will also have to beat up Catholics, Methodists and Presbyterians.” Mr Kunonga has been rewarded for backing Mr Mugabe with a formerly white-owned farm.