Harare – Riot police have arrested a Zimbabwean deputy sheriff trying to open the Anglican cathedral for a Sunday service, the cathedral church warden Sekai Chibaya said on Monday. The cathedral had been illegally occupied by a renegade pro-ruling party ex-priest and baton-charged parishioners waiting for the church to be opened and to begin a service, witnesses said. Watched by a group of about 20 parishioners on Sunday, a locksmith accompanying the deputy-sheriff – whose name was not immediately available – had just used a bolt cutter to open the padlock on the gate to the cathedral after a squad of riot police drove up, Chibaya said. The court official was arguing with a police detail and two priests loyal to dismissed former bishop of Harare Nolbert Kunonga challenging a writ of execution granted by a high court judge on Friday. She said: “We thought … help has come at last. They jumped out the truck and started beating us, and bundled us – including the deputy-sheriff – in the truck and took us to the charge office. I was in shock.”
The incident was the latest in the struggle between Kunonga, dismissed by the Anglican synod of Central Africa, the Church’s supreme authority in the region, after he unilaterally set up his own diocese in Harare, and the newly enthroned replacement bishop, Sebastian Bakare. Bakare had been trying to assert court orders giving him and his clergy control of the Cathedral of St Mary and All Saints, the senior parish in Zimbabwe. Three weeks ago, a high court judge declared that Kunonga, a militant supporter of President Robert Mugabe, had no legal rights to be in the cathedral following the synod’s appointment of Bakare. He ignored the order, and attempts to have Bakare enthroned in the cathedral two weeks ago were thwarted by heavily-built young men blocking the church entrance. No action was taken by police, despite being shown the court order. The enthronement had to be held instead in a local sports stadium. The cathedral had been locked since then, except briefly for poorly attended services held by Kunonga.
On Friday last week, Bakare’s officials obtained a writ of execution order for the deputy sheriff to ensure Kunonga allowed the cathedral to be opened for services by synod-endorsed clergy. On Sunday at noon, three priests and several parishioners arrived at the cathedral, where the gates were locked. Immediately after the locks were broken, a policeman arrived, followed by two pro-Kunonga priests who had also been dismissed by the synod and barred the deputy-sheriff from going any further. They claimed they had appealed against the order, but refused to show the court official the documents, Chibaya said. The deputy sheriff stood his ground, but then the riot police attacked. Most of the others ran away. One man was badly beaten on the arm, she said. They left the two Kunonga priests alone.