By ACNS staff
Anglican priests and their families in Zimbabwe may face eviction following a High Court ruling awarding custodianship of Anglican church properties to excommunicated bishop Dr Nolbert Kunonga.
Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya has predicted “distress and chaos” for Anglican priests living in church properties in the wake of the legal decision.
In a letter to supporters across the Anglican Communion, he wrote: "The Chief Justice has at long last given a judgement on an appeal we had made against Justice Hlatshwayo’s judgement of 24th July 2009 in which he intended to stop my consecration and also gave the custodianship of the diocesan properties to Dr. Kunonga.
“The Chief Justice should have given his judgement over a year ago. To our surprise and that of everyone else, thirteen months after his promise to give judgement, the Chief Justice has now reinstated our appeal but upheld Hlatshwayo judgement on the custodianship of the properties.
“You can well imagine the distress and chaos this is likely to cause especially for our priests who are living in rectories. I am very concerned about the likely disturbances to my priests and their families."
He told ACNS that the diocese and the Church of the Province of Central Africa are waiting to see what will happen next. Bp Chad explained that the ruling means the challenge to his installation as Bishop of Harare is finally over, but whether the properties remain with Dr Kunonga in now the hands of the Supreme Court.
"I am hopeful that common sense will prevail," he said, "how can he [Dr Kunonga] be given custodianship of properties of an organisation or which he is not a member?" The excommunicated bishop left the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) in 2007 to set up a rival church. "If the Supreme Court do not return the properties to our church then we will have no other recourse," said Bp Chad.
To date, fighting this court battle has cost the CPCA US$100,000 and Bp Chad describes finding the funds to continue litigation as "a struggle". He added that he has had significant support from the English Diocese of Rochester, but would welcome support from elsewhere in the Anglican Communion.
This legal decision to give Dr Kunonga custodianshihp comes only a few weeks after he appeared on national television to announce he had taken over all church properties.
“We are seeing this happening right before our eyes," Bp Chad wrote in his letter to supporters. "All along he has been abusing church members and misusing church properties with the support of some in the Zimbabwe Republic Police and nobody stopped him. We thought that the laws of the land would stop him but now we see the law legitimising his impunity. We have tried to engage various responsible authorities but to no avail.
“We believe that this is setting a very dangerous precedent in the country. Dr Kunonga is claiming ownership of properties that do not belong to him. This is daylight robbery now with the support of the law. We continue to hope for the time when reason will prevail to the glory of God.”
The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe has been under attack from the excommunicated bishop, Dr Nolbert Kunonga, since 2007. Kunonga, with the support of police and henchmen, has seized CPCA church property and used violence to break up church services. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Dr Kunonga was quoted as saying that his aim is for his church to control about 3,000 Anglican churches, schools, hospitals and other properties in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Malawi.
For a timeline of events regarding this ruling visit the Diocese of Harare's website here