THIS week’s Supreme Court ruling against “The Controversy” — as tough-talking Nolbert Kunonga, head of the breakaway Anglican Church of the Province of Zimbabwe once boisterously called himself — has closed the final chapter of a sordid saga that leaves a durable stain on the country’s religious conscience.
Opinion by Stewart Chabwinja
In a classic case of justice delayed amounting to justice denied, Kunonga, for five years, bestrode the Anglican church like a colossus — to borrow a Shakespearean line — after seizing control of the divided church through a High Court order and hastily set about reducing a venerable church to a seedy secular concern with the ostensible support, by acts of commission and omission, of politicians and the police.
For good measure, Kunonga’s desecration left the church with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills and missing property.
As Bishop Chad Gandiya and his relieved Church of the Province of Central Africa congregants survey the wreckage of Kunonga’s unholy reign while slowly picking up the pieces, the Kunonga melodrama should serve as a timely reminder, as we head towards critical elections, of the ramifications of men of the cloth selling their souls and parishioners to self-serving politicians in exchange for support and mortal power.
Wily Kunonga, who appeared to revel in his infamy, was ever quick to play his trump card: his anti-gay stance and his support for Zanu PF policies while dismissing opposition parties as puppets of the West.
In exchange Kunonga reportedly enjoyed protection from the police who on numerous occasions disrupted the services of the Gandiya Anglican Church, arresting priests and parishioners for allegedly conducting services without their authorisation or that of a seemingly omnipotent Kunonga.
Zanu PF’s support for Kunonga’s much-reviled reign was subtle as the party chose to ignore the numerous alleged and proved goings-on within the church and the petitions sent to the party’s hierarchy even by Zanu PF supporters.
Granted, the matter was before the courts, but the party should have spoken out against claims of vice within the church and the harassment of parishioners at the hands of Kunonga which shocked the entire nation.
Instead, Zanu PF has been on a campaign to woo the church vote, with several party heavyweights making whistle-stop appearances at religious gatherings.
In 2010 President Robert Mugabe swapped his designer suits for white apostolic sect robes and staff, to join a Johane Masowe passover ceremony where he endorsed polygamy, never mind the implications in this day of HIV and Aids. This was after Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai had taken part in a service of the apostolic sect ostensibly to encourage them to immunise their children.
Many other Zanu PF bigwigs have beaten the same path including Vice-President Joice Mujuru, Information minister Webster Shamu and war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda, all preaching the vote-Mugabe-and-Zanu PF gospel.
Zanu PF even tried to hijack the popular United Family International Church’s “Judgment Day” all-night service in April, with Shamu taking to the stage to strut his stuff with openly pro-Zanu PF gospel outfit, Mahendere Brothers.
Desperate politicians will no doubt continue to dole out lofty promises and goodies as they seek endorsement and favours from the clergy and its flock. By allowing them to politicise religion for selfish, short-term agendas the church risks contagion as many of the politicians are in it only for the votes.
While politics and religion are by no means always strange bedfellows, the role some churches played in the country’s liberation struggle being a case in point, the interface between the pulpit and the podium must not be compromised by greedy politicians turned fly-by-night Christians in pursuit of votes and power.