THERE was drama at the trial of Harare Anglican bishop Nolbert Kunonga yesterday as the prosecutor and the defence disagreed on how to proceed, forcing the judge to withdraw from the case. <
Kunonga was brought before an ecclesiastical court – convened at Royal Harare Club – on various charges, including trying to incite the murder of opponents and maintaining a doctrine contrary to the teaching of the church.
Kunonga’s lawyer, James Mutizwa, yesterday demanded further evidence on 16 of the charges being levelled against his client as separate submissions, arguing that would be in compliance with circular courts.
Prosecutor Jeremy Lewis opted to submit the charges as one bunch, resulting in a heated argument, forcing the judge to withdraw.
“I have no intention to continue with the case,” Malawian Supreme Court judge Justice James Kalaile said after one and half hours of serious exchanges between the contesting parties. “The archbishop will have to appoint another judge because I have never encountered these problems in all cases I have presided over. So I withdraw,” he said before dismissing the court.
Witnesses said the Judge had no capacity to handle the matter.
“Looking at his record, the judge has no capacity to handle this matter,” a witness identified only as Kakono said. “In October last year Kalaile was forced to resign from the Malawi Electoral Commission following heavy criticism by civil society and observers for his handling of general elections, which makes us doubt his credibility.”
He said Kalaile presided over the MEC for only three months before pro-democracy groups and opposition parties accused him of failing to conduct free and fair elections.
Charges against Kunonga are that he intimidated and improperly fired priests, ignored church law, commandeered bank accounts and foreign exchange, and “brought the diocese into contempt”.
He is also accused of ordering the removal of cathedral memorials for Zimbabweans killed in the first and second world wars as well as pioneers of white-ruled Rhodesia and for victims of the 1972-1980 independence war.
Archbishop Bernard Malanga, head of the Church of the Province of Central Africa, which has authority over Zimbabwe, appointed Kalaile to hear the case with Zambian bishops Leonard Mwenda and Albert Chama assisting.
Plans for the key witness to the incitement to murder charge, former Zimbabwean priest James Mukunga, to give evidence via a closed circuit video link from a secret location in London, were disallowed under local rules of evidence. Lewis said Mukunga feared for his life if he returned to Zimbabwe but might be prepared to testify from neighbouring Malawi.
The incitement to murder charge may be heard later in Malawi.
Kunonga was accused of inciting members of the Central Intelligence Organisation and “war veterans” militia to murder 10 of his critics in the local Anglican hierarchy.