Churches feel vulnerable after Mugabe reelected in Zimbabwe

The atmosphere in Zimbabwe after the reelection of strongman Robert Mugabe is not one of great celebration, but of tension. 

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the main challenger, says he will not join in a new governing coalition but is contesting the credibility of the July 31 vote in court.

Fears are on the rise in the capital of Harare, reports say, that under one-party rule, a host of Mr. Mugabe’s old partners, cronies, henchmen, and friends will start to come out of the woodwork to take advantage of the hour.

Foreign-owned banks, mines, and businesses have heard that, to fulfill a campaign promise made by Mugabe, their assets may be seized and restructured into a majority national ownership arrangement.

Now it appears the considerable property of the Anglican church in Zimbabwe, though it is mostly a black membership, may also be under renewed scrutiny by the unscrupulous.

The chief Anglican bishop in Zimbabwe, Chad Gandiya, this week accused a renegade clergyman and friend of Mugabe of restarting a campaign using brutality, the courts, and police to seize churches, orphanages, and missions owned by mainstream Anglicans.

Mr. Gandiya told the Associated Press that Nolbert Kunonga, a defrocked bishop who stumped for Mugabe and last week called him a leader “sent from God,” is using the emotion around the landslide vote as an opportunity to seize property associated with the Church of England.

Several years ago Mr. Kunonga, who is US educated and has told The New York Times that he is a “superior person” to the other members of the Anglican clergy, began by legal and extralegal means to take over church properties, including the cathedral of Harare.

Gandiya told reporters that Kunonga this week sent thugs into his own home in Harare, where they stole cellphones and records of church holdings and personnel.

Gandiya also said that in the area of Murewa, outside Harare, local police are supporting Kunonga’s effort to take over a mission, and to evict 100 children from the Shearly Cripps orphanage, first started by British and American missionaries.

Anglican clergy and assets have been under attack in Zimbabwe for years as part of Mugabe’s long standing tryst with the West and its institutions of influence.

Mugabe is a Roman Catholic but has sought and found alliances with those in other faiths, like Kunonga, who share his anti-Western ideology. 

But now, on the heels of a contested “landslide” election where Mugabe promised to expand “reform” policies that earlier led to evictions of white farmers from their land, a variety of Protestant and Catholic churches, despite being largely black, are again worried. 

Officials from Mugabe’s Zanu PF party spoke this Tuesday of instituting new forms of “wealth transfer.”

Foreign-owned mines and banks are worth an estimated $9 billion in value.

So the limited Zimbabwe religious blogosphere is taking notice of the behavior of Kunonga, who had been excommunicated in 2007. He formed a splinter church and began to appropriate and “share”  Anglican property with the apparent blessing of Mugabe.

Kunonga’s splinter church for a time enjoyed standing but is now in legal limbo. But this could change again. Kunonga currently holds, in contravention of a court order, some of the largest Anglican church buildings and edifices in Harare, including the main cathedral, along with bank accounts and vehicles.

He has also developed a reputation for brutality. Two years ago, Kunonga told a New York Times reporter in Harare that he planned to take over some 3,000 Anglican properties in Africa for his own use and profit.

In the interview, he alluded to the use of violence, saying, “You must have a very good reason to kill people. Being a political scientist, I know who to eliminate if I wanted to physically, and to make it effective. I’m a strategist.”

He added that, “If I want to pick on people to kill, Gandiya would not survive here.” 

The head of the Anglican church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has said he is seeking a visit to speak with Mugabe about the issue. 

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