Mugabe supporters try to stop installation of new Harare bishop

By staff writers
February 3, 2008

Supporters of Zimbabwe's ruling party an President Robert Mugabe blockaded Harare's Anglican Cathedral today, in order to stop the investiture of the elected successor to a schismatic bishop notorious for his backing of the regime.

However the ceremony went ahead at a local civic arena later on in the day, as thousands of worshippers defied intimidation from government supporters.

Ignoring a court order, police refused to intervene as gangs of supporters of ex-bishop Nolbert Kunonga locked the doors and gates to the cloisters of St Mary's Cathedral in downtown Harare.

Eyewitnesses said that several worshippers who tried to enter the building were assaulted, as police looked on but did nothing.

On Thursday 31 January the High Court in Zimbabwe ruled that the swearing-in of Bishop Sebastian Bakare, voted bishop of the Harare Anglican province by local churches to replace Kunonga, should go ahead and that congregants should be allowed to worship in the cathedral in spite of threats to them.

However, early on 3 February 2008, supporters of Kunonga and Mugabe circled the cathedral entrances and barred entry to churchgoers arriving for Sunday services.

Bishop Bakare was later installed in an "investiture" ceremony as the new caretaker Anglican bishop of Harare at a service attended by several thousand worshippers at a sports arena across the city.

In January, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, unequivocally condemned the use of armed police and state machinery to intimidate ex-Bishop Kunonga's opponents.

He declared then: "Kunonga's position has become increasingly untenable within the Anglican Church over the last year, as he has consistently refused to maintain appropriate levels of independence from the Zimbabwean Government."

Kunonga was removed after breaking away from the Church of the Province of Central Africa, the regional Anglican governing body, and declaring the formation of an independent Harare diocese with himself as its leader.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.