ZIMBABWE: Police drive Anglican pilgrims away from Bernard Mizeki Shrine
"The police are taking this action in spite of the assurances we were given by [the] government that we would not be disturbed or harassed by anyone," said Diocese of Harare Bishop Chad N. Gandiya in a June 25 e-mail to church partners.
The pilgrims were heading to the shrine of Bernard Mizeki, a 19th century African Christian missionary and martyr, located just outside Marondera, when they were met by police roadblocks.
The Zimbabwe High Court has previously ruled that the church property should be shared by the Diocese of Harare and a breakaway faction led by former bishop Nolbert Kunonga until the formal dispute over ownership of diocesan property is resolved. Kunonga has refused to comply with the ruling.
"One of the ministers of Home Affairs was on television ... assuring people that they would not be disturbed and that they would be protected but all this is far from the reality on the ground in Marondera," said Gandiya. "I also was given the rare opportunity to encourage pilgrims on television to come to the shrine and that they would be protected, but the assurances have not been honored. Please pray for us and all the pilgrims who are equally shocked by this unacceptable behavior by the police."
Since 2007, Harare's loyal Anglicans have faced intimidation from Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's police force, which is routinely instructed to take whatever measures necessary to prevent them from worshiping freely in the Diocese of Harare's churches. The Diocese of Harare is part of the Church of the Province of Central Africa.
Police action was stepped up in May 2008 when Kunonga was excommunicated and his breakaway faction claimed ownership of the diocese's Anglican churches. Kunonga is a keen supporter of Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party and has backed the intimidation of Anglicans in Zimbabwe for opposing his and Mugabe's leadership.
"The custodians of the law are the ones denying us access, threatening to arrest us or use teargas, to force us out," Gandiya said in February. "There are church wardens who have been arrested and some who bear marks of beatings."
According to a Zimbabwe Standard newspaper report, Gandiya said a recent ruling by the Supreme Court over the issue of Anglican properties had caused confusion and been misinterpreted.
Zimbabwe's Supreme Court on May 3 dismissed a Church of the Province of Central Africa appeal that challenged a 2009 High Court decision recognizing Kunonga and his breakaway faction as legitimate Anglicans. The Anglican province's appeal was dismissed because it had not paid security fees expected by the Supreme Court. Contrary to various news reports, the Supreme Court ruling did not declare that Kunonga and his followers are the rightful owners of diocesan church assets.
"In as far as the province is concerned I am the legitimate bishop of the Diocese of Harare," said Gandiya, according to the Zimbabwe Standard.
Gandiya, consecrated in July 2009, is recognized by the archbishop of Canterbury as the legitimate Anglican leader in the region.
The Ecumenical Zimbabwe Network issued a statement on June 23 expressing its "steadfast solidarity and prayer with and for the parishioners and leaders of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe."
The network describes itself as "an alliance of Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical advocacy and development organizations as well as representatives of Zimbabwe churches in the diaspora, based in the Global North and Southern Africa."
"We call upon the Zimbabwe Republic Police to exercise restraint, professionalism and even-handedness in dealing with those seeking entry into their places of worship or as they worship in open air," the statement said.