ZIMBABWE: Diocese to welcome Williams as ex-bishop prepares snub

October 3, 2011

As Zimbabweans prepared to welcome Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams this week in a visit designed to support Anglicans under siege from a renegade ex-bishop, the former cleric himself said he would snub the Anglican Communion leader.

Anglicans in Zimbabwe are embroiled in a fight over church property with former bishop of Harare Nolbert Kunonga, who fell out with the church in 2007 over what he said was its pro-gay stance. Kunonga has formed his own church with a clique of followers, claiming he has rights over church property including buildings, schools and hospitals.

Williams' October 5 - 13 trip will also include visits to Malawi and Zambia. In Malawi, Williams will preach at a service of celebration for the 150th anniversary of the Anglican Church there.

"His visit is to show support to Anglicans in Zimbabwe in the face of on-going persecution at the hands of an ex-communicated man who has nothing else to do than focus his attention on destroying what generations of Anglicans built using their own resources," the Harare diocese said in a statement on October 1.

Addressing Kunonga's rhetoric over homosexuality, the diocese said, "Our critics say we should not welcome Dr. Williams to Zimbabwe because he has previously made statements not denouncing homosexuality. That is irrelevant and does not impact negatively on the important work of the church."

At a news conference on 29 September, Kunonga said he was not keen to meet Williams. "I can't be in solidarity with him. He won't solve anything. Other people are seeing hope. They are seeing Jesus Christ coming."

Williams' office at Lambeth Palace in London has said that he has asked for a meeting with Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, but it is not known whether a meeting will take place. Kunonga, as an ally of Mugabe, has receive support from police and the courts in intimidating clergy, staff and worshippers and taking over church properties.

Meanwhile, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, said a group from southern Africa will accompany Williams in support of loyal Anglicans in Zimbabwe. "Zimbabweans should know that they are not forgotten by the global church," said Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.

"We as the Synod of Southern Africa, we are accompanying the Archbishop of Canterbury to have a ministry of presence in Zimbabwe," Makgoba told ENInews.

Makgoba said they would meet with Bishop Chad Gandiya, who is recognized as the Anglican bishop of Harare. "It is tough. It is sad looking at what the church is going through," said Makgoba. "We hold them in our prayers."

At his news conference, Kunonga claimed Williams' visit was to try to lobby Mugabe to include gay rights in the new constitution currently being drafted. "We have a constitution-making process. For him it's a timely move to lobby for homosexuality to make it acceptable in the name of human rights," Kunonga said.

Using a word he has often used to describe those who disagree with him, Kunonga said Williams is a "nonentity" and is "a British diplomat representing neo-colonial interests."