Nearly 80 Anglican clergymen were barred access to an annual retreat in Zimbabwe on Tuesday, inciting claims from the group that the government is prohibiting their freedom of religion.
The Diocese of Harare of the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) attempted to convene at a high school in Marondera – just southwest of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare – but was met by police officers who demanded the group leave the school grounds.
CPCA Bishop Nicholas Chad Gandiya said the incident was not a simple misunderstanding.
“This is calculated harassment by some of the police officers,” Bishop Gandiya said in a statement. “We deplore this action and call upon higher authorities to intervene. So much for freedom of religion.”
Gandiya added that he feared “another year of persecution at the hands of a hostile police force.”
The Anglican church split in Zimbabwe after Bishop Nolbert Kunonga was ex-communicated for supporting President Robert Mugabe. The overwhelming majority of Christian leaders have denounced Mugabe for committing human rights violations and ineptly governing the country.
Kunonga’s support of Mugabe however, allowed the former bishop to form a splinter Anglican group. With government backing, Kunonga’s faction won access to half of the country’s Anglican facilities, including the properties in Harare.
CPCA officials are convinced that the government and its support of Kunonga prohibited them from worshipping at the retreat. The incident is seen as another instance in a long history of persecution.
The CPCA has claimed persecution from law enforcement for several years. In a 2008 statement, Bishop Sebastian Bakare said the church would not tolerate continued undue discrimination.
“The Police are supposed to be custodians of the law but what we are experiencing as the Diocese of Harare (CPCA) proves that the Police have become a law unto themselves by accepting ‘orders from above,’” Bakare said.
Bakare added that he thought there was prevailing justice in Zimbabwe but, like in many developing nations, certain bad seeds in positions of power can corrupt the system entirely.
“This godless behavior displayed by police officers of pulling up people who are kneeling in prayer and worship is not a true reflection of levels of lawlessness in Zimbabwe or in the Force, but in individual police officers,” Bakare said.
The CPCA vowed to fight back against the prejudice. The Rev. Clifford Dvazo said in statement that Anglicans’ faith will remain steadfast and that the CPCA will not be intimidated to curtail any practices.
“[We] will continue to worship in the open,” Dzavo said. “This was proven on Saturday when our detractors, led by Kunonga and Alfred Munyanyi, one of his supporters, unsuccessfully attempted to influence the police and city authorities in Marondera to throw us out of the Showgrounds.”
“They will continue to fail to stop us from gathering to worship God.” the reverend.
Mugabe’s controversial reign as president of Zimbabwe has lead to crippling inflation rates and a desolated infrastructure following the ill-fated decision to seize land from white farmers and re-allocate it to native Zimbabweans.
These decisions begot famine, poverty and civil unrest that eventually led to a power-sharing agreement between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and elected Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Despite relinquishing ostensibly half of his control of the country, Mugabe still wields heavy influence. He has recently expressed wishes to return to the single-leader system, giving rise to speculation that he may rig an upcoming election.