The Zimbabwe Supreme Court has handed the breakaway bishop of Harare, Dr. Nolbert Kunonga a surprise loss and ordered he turn over the diocese’s churches to the lawful bishop, Dr. Chad Gandiya.
The decision caps five years of legal battles between Dr. Kunonga and the Church of the Province of Central Africa and its bishops of Harare, Dr. Sebastian Bakare and Dr. Gandiya. It has also been marked by violent intimidation of Anglicans loyal to the province – estimated to be over 90 per cent of its members – with the security services and police intervening on behalf of Dr. Kunonga to drive Anglicans out of their churches.
Appointed Bishop of Harare in 2000 in an election marred by interference from the security services, the American educated bishop has had a controversial tenure.
A native of Zimbabwe, Nolbert Kunonga earned a PhD from Northwestern University and taught at Dr. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Theological Seminary in Barrytown New York before returning to Harare to stand for election as bishop.
In 2007 Dr. Kunonga broke with the CPCA to form the Anglican Church of Zimbabwe. The breakaway bishop claimed his reasons for leaving the CPCA were its support of homosexuality and progressive Western theology. However, the CPCA has long opposed the innovations of doctrine and discipline made by some Western churches, and said the controversial bishop had been the subject of investigations for fraud, heresy and misconduct. He was also alleged to have ordered the murder of disloyal clergy.
A fervent supporter of the Mugabe regime, Dr. Kunonga has called the Zimbabwean strongman a second Moses, and has lambasted the British and American governments for their criticisms of the regime. In return for his loyalty, the regime gave Dr. Kunonga a farm expropriated from a white commercial farmer. The U.S. State Department and the European Union have banned Dr. Kunonga from entry into their territories due to his complicity with the crimes of the regime.
The security services and police have also supported Dr Kunonga, using violence to expel Anglicans from their churches who would not pledge their loyalty to him. Court rulings that ordered Dr. Kunonga to share the use of church properties with Dr. Gandiya’s supporters were ignored, and attempts by constables to enforce them were blocked by the secret police.
But on 19 Nov 2012 Supreme Court Judge Yunus Omerjee dismissed Dr. Kunonga’s claims to be the lawful bishop of Harare and ordered that he return control of all church properties to Dr. Gandiya.
Last month oral argument was presented before the Supreme Court panel on seven Anglican Church appeals. At the close of oral argument the court dismissed five appeals: Dr. Kunonga’s appeal of a ruling by Judge Rita Makarau ordering the two factions to share church properties, using them at alternate times for worship; Dr. Kunonga’s appeal of Judge Charles Hungwe’s ruling dismissing his application for control of the properties; Dr. Kunonga’s appeal of Judge Susan Mavangira’s ruling that stayed a lower court decision granting him control of the properties; Dr. Kunonga’s appeal of Judge Antonia Guvara’s ruling upholding Judge Makarau’s order on sharing the properties; and an appeal by Kunonga ally, the former Bishop of Manicaland, Elson Jakazi seeking to overturn a ruling by Judge Chinembiri Bhunu that removed him from control of that diocese’s assets.
The court held the notices of appeal filed in those cases were defective and ordered they be struck off. Two appeals that determined the ownership were taken under advisement by the court.
Appearing on behalf of the CPCA at the hearing, attorneys Adrian De Bourbon and Thabani Mpofu argued that in a letter dated 21 Sept 2010 Dr. Kunonga had resigned as Bishop of Harare of the CPCA and that the province had accepted his resignation on 16 Nov. The formation of the Anglican Church of Zimbabwe by Dr. Kunonga was a schismatic act that did not vest control of CPCA properties in the new entity, they said.
Attorneys Tawanda Kanengoni and Charles Nyika appearing on behalf of Dr. Kunonga argued the former bishop and his board of appointed trustees for the Diocese of Harare were still members of the CPCA. Dr. Kunonga’s letter of resignation did not conform to the canons of the CPCA and was void, they said, arguing the dispute centered round who was the proper Bishop of Harare.
The court held it was Dr. Gandiya.
Dr. Gandiya greeted the news with joy. “Today is a day of thanksgiving for the love, grace, mercy and faithfulness of our God. To God be the glory, Great things he has done! We will forever remember and sing how gracious our God is. We call upon all members of our Diocese to be gracious also in winning.”
In a statement released after the verdict was handed down, Dr. Gandiya called upon the Anglicans of Zimbabwe to rebuild the diocese.
“The first thing we ask every parish to do when you go back is to carry out thorough inspection of all our buildings,” Dr. Gandiya said.
“Assess the damage, note what needs to be done and carry out a full inventory of what we left behind when we were evicted,” he said adding the “rebuilding of God’s people in our diocese should be a priority also. Our people were greatly traumatized by the persecution of the last five years. They are in need of healing. The spiritual and pastoral care of our people through holistic ministry should be reflected in all our diocesan and parish programs. In many ways we had already started doing this. None-the-less, we need to strengthen it.”
“Come let us work together, let us rise up and build! Renovate! Paint! Let us do it all to God’s glory.”