Posted by: Titus Presler | June 28, 2010

Mizeki Festival held in Zimbabwe despite police harassment

The annual Bernard Mizeki Festival organized under the auspices of the Anglican Diocese of Harare CPCA appears to have been held successfully despite having to be moved to an alternative site on account of police harassment instigated by government elements supporting Nolbert Kunonga, the breakaway bishop who is seeking to wrest control of Zimbabwe’s original diocese from the Church of the Province of Central Africa.

Today’s exultant letter from Harare Bishop Chad Gandiya is a tribute to the deep faith and courage of Zimbabwe’s Anglican Christians as they braved police intimidation in order to carry through with the several-day gathering, which is the largest annual gathering of Anglicans in the world.  It also confirms the deep and abiding place that the Mizeki festival has in regional spirituality as Christians honor the first Anglican martyr of central Africa, killed in 1896 at the site of today’s shrine in north-central Zimbabwe, about an hour’s drive east of Harare.  Here is Bp. Gandiya’s letter:

Dear Friends,

To God be the glory, great things he has done! God is great! Indeed, then sings my soul my saviour God to thee – How great thou art …!

The heavily armed police at the Bernard Mizeki Shrine, the road blocks on the main Harare/Mutare road and other police discouragements did not deter the majority of the pilgrims. Some pilgrims were returned home by the police. We had to find an alternative venue in Marondera – the Marondera Show Ground. We had one of the largest gatherings in recent memory! The pilgrims were very understanding despite the hardships. The worship, singing and testimonies were something out of this world! Even Kunonga and some of his people came and watched at a distance. I am told that he told one of the show ground officials that “this kind of gathering was a health hazard”! We saw the hand of God at work throughout the weekend. Pilgrims stayed until we finished the early Sunday Eucharist. Bishop Dinis Sengulane of Lebombo, Mozambique led a group of about 80 pilgrims from Mozambique. In spite of the police efforts to discourage us we had one of the best celebrations in memory! Bishop Godfrey Tawonezvi of Masvingo preached a brillant sermon, and I was the chief celebrant. I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for your prayer support.

Still rejoicing,

For people not familiar with the Mizeki Festival phenomenon, it is worth noting that people make plans months in advance to attend the festival and usually arrive Thursday evening and stay into Sunday morning.  Camping outside in the winter cold means that they must bring bedding, cookware and food to prepare.  Most pilgrims do not have their own vehicles, so buses are hired or people travel by regular public buses, and reaching the festival site may take the better part of a day.  The typical pilgrim family, therefore, is highly motivated and, once on the move, is not easily deterred.  Going to Mizeki is not a matter of throwing a few things in the boot of one’s car and taking off with a credit card in one’s pocket, in which case it would be easy enough to turn around and go home.  Clearly, the harassers met with more than they bargained for in trying to close down the festival!

Bp. Gandiya’s statement that this year’s gathering was one of the largest in recent memory points to an attendance of at least 25,000 and possibly more than 30,000.

Nevertheless, amid the good news there are disquieting signs:

1. In attacking the Mizeki Festival, government supporters of Kunonga have been emboldened to attack the heart of Zimbabwean Anglicanism.  This indicates substantial support within the government for the breakaway bishop

2. The sequence in which public assurances were made that the festival could proceed and then police sought to prevent the festival from happening provide continuing confirmation that the rule of law in the country has broken down.  The silver lining is that public assurances were thought to be necessary, and they do indicate some support within the government for the authentic Anglican diocese, the one that continues to be part of the Anglican Communion and its Church of the Province of Central Africa.

3. The fact that the festival had to be moved from the Mizeki Shrine, itself a sacred spot for Zimbabwean Anglicans, to the Marondera Showground about 15 miles away is an outrage.  Doubtless this was deeply hurtful to the many who feel a mystic connection with the site of the shrine.

4. It is well to bear in mind that the Mizeki Festival had already been bifurcated, with the breakaway bishops still controlling the weekend closest to Mizeki’s feast day, June 18, for their much smaller gathering, while the authentic and much larger Anglican gathering has been relegated to the next weekend after that (this year June 25-27).

All this is extremely unfortunate.  The good news is that the pilgrims and church leaders did not turn back but, instead, held a celebratory and inspiring event that gave glory to God and signaled that the church cannot be suppressed.


  1. The forces of the Devil will never prevail. God’s church lives and grows no matter what.

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