Posted by: Titus Presler | July 6, 2011

Renegade Zimbabwean bishop Kunonga chillingly brutal in rare interview with New York Times

Chillingly callous and brutal declarations are the major feature of the recent New York Times report, “Mugabe Ally Escalates Push to Control Anglican Church,” that highlights a rare interview with Zimbabwean renegade bishop Nolbert Kunonga.  It is startling that Kunonga made no attempt to soften the reputation for violence and lawlessness that he has gained over the last several years both at home and abroad.

Instead, in his comments to reporter Celia Dugger, Kunonga expressed a swaggering willingness to threaten physical violence against his adversaries and easy confidence that his effort to establish hegemony over Zimbabwean Anglicans will carry the day:

In a three-hour interview in his office, Mr. Kunonga, a portly man with a gravelly voice, scoffed at the idea that he or his allies had sought to have anyone killed. In fact, if he had wanted anyone killed, he said, it would have been Bishop Gandiya, his rival as the legitimate bishop of Harare.

But there was no need for violence, Mr. Kunonga said, because he was already winning the legal battle to control church properties.

“You must have a very good reason to kill people,” he said. “Being a political scientist, I know who to eliminate if I wanted to physically, and to make it effective. I’m a strategist.”

Mr. Kunonga added, “If I want to pick on people to kill, Gandiya would not survive here.” As for allegations that he and his men were involved in Mrs. Mandeya’s killing, Mr. Kunonga retorted, “What would an illiterate 89-year-old woman do to me to deserve death or assassination?”

It is significant that Kunonga did not reject violence against his church adversaries as incompatible with his Christian conviction or with his purported role as a Christian leader.  He simply said that violence – and, by implication, even murder – was unnecessary because he believed he was winning the legal battles.  His references to the Rt. Rev. Chad Gandiya, the legitimate bishop of Harare, are clearly threatening.  His comment about Mbuya Mandeya is striking for the contempt he expressed for the elderly grandmother’s age and lack of literacy.

Kunonga’s statements are shocking for their cold and calculating tone and confirm that he is unfit for Christian leadership.  One wonders how the electoral college constituted for the leadership transition in the Diocese of Harare could have elected him to begin with.  Yet it must be acknowledged that leadership selections across the denominations and around the world sometimes lift up people who turn out to be tragically unsuited for the offices to which they are appointed.

Beyond the specifics of this report, it is salutary that the Zimbabwean Anglican situation finally has caught the attention of The New York Times.  Since the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Chad Gandiya on 26 July 2009 in Harare, I have been trying on this blog to disseminate news and analysis of the ongoing persecution of Anglicans in the dioceses of Harare and Manicaland, which together constitute the most conflicted Anglican situation in the world.  My intention has been that Zimbabweans, Anglicans worldwide and other interested persons could keep up to date on the continuing outrages perpetrated in the two dioceses by renegade bishops who have been renounced by the Anglican Communion but who are able to continue in power due to their alliance with the Mugabe regime.  I had been puzzled that the international press had seemed not to be interested in the situation, and it is gratifying that Celia Dugger, who is based in South Africa, has now included the Anglican situation in her purview.

Dugger’s report confirms other facts about the situation that have long been featured both on this blog and in the public comments of Bishop Chad Gandiya of Harare: for instance, that Anglicans have been singled out for harassment by police, doubtless with official connivance, and that Kunonga’s side of the Anglican dispute is favored by the government because of his alliance with President Mugabe.

It is significant that Dugger’s report also confirms what virtually all people in the legitimate Diocese of Harare have known over the past two years, that membership in the congregations controlled by Kunonga dwindled long ago to small numbers of attendees, while membership and participation in the congregations affiliated with Bp. Gandiya and the worldwide Anglican Communion have held steady or increased over the period of the controversy.   Her moving vignette of a woman who pushes her son in a wheelchair to a relatively distant Anglican parish rather than to a nearby Kunonga parish is indicative of the attitude of many Zimbabwean Anglicans.

Two new elements in Dugger’s report should be noted.  One is Kunonga’s reported effort to seize a major church establishment beyond his own diocese – Daramombe Mission in the Diocese of Masvingo.  Daramombe is one of the largest Anglican church complexes in Zimbabwe – comparable to St. David’s at Bonda and St. Faith’s near Rusape – and it therefore would be a desirable prize for Kunonga.  Located in a rural area, it is vulnerable to the kind of harassment that Dugger describes as having taken place, and Bp. Tawonezvi of Masvingo is quite right to raise the alarm.

The second new element is Kunonga’s reported statement that the ultimate aim is to gain control over the entire Anglican Province of Central Africa, which includes dioceses and congregations in Botswana, Malawi and Zambia as well as Zimbabwe.  This is probably an unattainable goal, but Anglican leaders in the other three countries should take note of Kunonga’s ambition.


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