Having recently replaced a predecessor who was a pro-Mugabe flunky, the new Anglican bishop of Harare is denouncing the geriatric dictator’s endless tyranny.
“We, the Anglican Church of the Diocese of Harare (CPCA) are shocked and dismayed by the continuous Police interference with Sunday services and the increased brutality causing casualties,” Bishop Sebastian Bakare recently wrote. “Many of our Parishioners were assaulted and beaten, several of our parishioners of St Monica's Church in Chitungwiza were brutally assaulted and had to be admitted to hospital.”
Late last year Bakare replaced pro Mugabe enthusiast Nolbert Kunonga as Bishop of Harare. With support from Mugabe’s police, Kunonga still kept Bakare from being officially installed in Zimbabwe’s Anglican Cathedral early this year. So Bakare’s investiture was in a sports stadium, with 15 other bishops present in support.
Kunonga was officially excommunicated by the church on May 12. Not surprisingly, Kunonga was a former lecturer on Liberation Theology in the U.S., where perhaps he learned that Mugabe was a divine agent of Zimbabwe’s salvation. After becoming bishop in Zimbabwe, Kunonga removed all memorial plaques in Harare’s cathedral that honored Zimbabwean and Rhodesian soldiers before Mugabe’s election, including World War II soldiers. All had been apparently instruments of British imperialism. In recent years, as Mugabe’s enormities worsened, Kunonga was cited for openly inciting violence against Mugabe’s enemies.
Last month, the Zimbabwe Supreme Court, still exercising some autonomy, refused Kunonga’s appeal to be reinstalled as Anglican chief in Harare. Starting the following Sunday, Mugabe’s police locked up all the Anglican churches. Some church goers who ignored the lock down were beaten, while many others worshipped in the open air in defiance of Mugabe’s intimidation.
"The police officers do not only prevent but beat, harass and arrest us having declared our church premises no-go areas,” Bishop Bakare reported. “Today in Zimbabwe the rule of law has been greatly compromised. That leaves us with no recourse to ensure that our members can freely and peacefully exercise their constitutional rights of worship without harassment.” The bishop pledged that his churches would continue their ministry and would continue to seek redress through Zimbabwe’s courts, no matter how Mugabe’s gendarmerie continue to disregard the law.
Bishop Bakare appealed directly to Zimbabwean police to “let sanity prevail and refrain from harassing and brutalizing Anglican Christians in Harare Diocese.” Whatever their response, he promised: “We will never cease to worship. We also believe, whether the Police like it or not, God will intervene, maybe not today and not tomorrow but in His own time. We will rejoice when this happens.”
Understandably, Bishop Bakare recalled the “beast” about whom the Book of Revelation prophesied. “Rest assured that the principalities and powers of this world come and go, but the God who is Alpha and Omega remains to achieve His purpose to save humanity, in spite of the challenges put before us by the beast,” the bishop insisted. “Our lives as Christians will always have security in Christ and not in the powers of this world.”
Bishop Bakare’s stirring defiance of Mugabe must have come as an unpleasant change for the dictator, who was accustomed to Bakare’s toady predecessor. The now excommunicated Bishop Kunonga had claimed Mugabe’s presidency was divinely ordained and had made rumblings about pulling Zimbabwe’s Anglicans out of the Anglican communion, in solidarity with Mugabe.
According to Episcopal News Service, Bishop of Massachusetts Thomas Shaw recently visited Zimbabwe and was awed by the Anglican’s resistance to Mugabe’s intimidation. Shaw related one incident in which 80 or 90 riot police began beating the church pews of one congregation and ended by beating parishioners, who responded with hymn singing and prayers. The Massachusetts bishop knew of at least one imprisoned priest. More commonly, he said, the police are seizing the churches’ vehicles, preventing clergy from visiting their widely dispersed flock.
In solidarity with Bishop Bakare, all of the other Anglican bishops in the Central African province denounced Mugabe in early June. “We are alarmed that a government can perpetrate irresponsible acts against its citizens by destroying people's homes, torturing and killing for the simple reason that they did not vote ‘correctly,” the prelates announced. “We fear that the Presidential Run-Off elections on 27th June 2008 could witness a repeat of retribution of those who would have not voted ‘correctly.’” Specifically citing the Mugabe regime’s torment of the Anglican churches in Zimbabwe, the bishops observed that Mugabe’s oppression “mirrors the persecution of Christians of the Early Church and in this context we remind the perpetrators that then as now God still triumphs over evil.”
Predictably, Mugabe’s regime and his ousted ecclesial supporter, the excommunicated Bishop Kunonga, have pronounced that the Anglican churches are instruments of British imperialism. Bishop Bakare and his fellow Anglicans are not likely to be intimidated by the usual flak from a now sinking despot.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.