Between 2004 and 2009 I visited Zimbabwe a number of times. The first visit exposed me to some of the realities and challenges of a beautiful country that Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF were turning into a nightmare. By my final visit inflation was around 10,000%, unemployment was sky high, and the bread basket of Africa had become a basket case.

I visited because the Diocese of Southwark (where I was the Bishop of Croydon) had longstanding partnership links with the Anglican dioceses in Zimbabwe. Croydon was linked with Central Zimbabwe, and I developed a friendship (based on huge admiration) with the Bishop, Ishmael Mukuwanda. I posted on this blog many times from and on Zimbabwe – simply put it in the search box and loads should come up.

So, watching the news now is heartening to an extent. At last, action has been taken to rid this country of its liberating tyrant and his Lady Macbeth wife whose name – Grace – is not matched by her character. It is no wonder that thousands of people are celebrating in the streets and that the Party is thought to be ready to dismiss Mugabe as party leader tomorrow. There can be no going back.

But, to what might the country be going forward? This is the hard question. It is easy to celebrate the end of Mugabe’s reign; but, what will now follow? Freedom from is not the hard bit; freedom to or for demands far more.

Ten years ago I was clear that the key to Zimbabwe’s future had to be the reestablishment of the rule of law – not just any law, but law as internationally recognised. Without the rule of law, nothing could be relied on. And, yet, now, we see the dethronement of Mugabe … but only by his own party. The same party will appoint a new leader, and this leader will continue the rule of ZANU PF. It will take someone brave or reckless to bring democracy back to Zimbabwe; in the meantime, Mugabe’s departure will not change much at all in terms of who is in charge, how they will run the country, and whose interests will be protected.

Clearly, today is for celebrating an ending. But, tomorrow will bring a beginning. And that beginning will probably be a continuing of what has gone before. It is too early to celebrate a new world for the wonderful people of this wonderful country. What we can be sure of, however, that the Anglican Church, with all its fallibilities and fragilities, will keep on plugging away imaginatively and creatively, serving communities and people in quiet, unsung ways, silently tilling the ground for a harvest they believe will one day come.

The utterly corrupt and very ex-Bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga, has described the Archbishop of Canterbury as “an irrelevance” as Rowan Williams begins his visit to Zimbabwe. Just how deluded do you have to be to come out with something like that in the face of Zimbabwe’s madness?

Having had very close involvement with Zimbabwe over the last decade, it is hard let go. This beautiful country, with it’s wonderful people and its heroic Anglican Church, deserves so much more than the rape and pillage it has suffered during the last twenty years of Mugabe’s tyranny. The Dioceses of Southwark and Rochester continue to work hard to support, sustain and encourage the Anglicans who are now suffering oppression at the hands of a Mugabe-backed renegade bishop in a country devoid of the rule of law.

This morning the Archbishop of Canterbury preached to thousands of people in an outdoor stadium in Harare. The Cathedral has been stolen by Kunonga with the backing of the judiciary and the police.

Is Dr Williams an irrelevance? Or is he a brave man who, trusting in the God who is on the side of the oppressed, is walking into the lion’s den in order to demonstrate that however loud the roar, the lion’s teeth are blunt and will one day soon fall out? His attempt to meet Mugabe might fail; his plea for justice might be to no avail; he might even be humiliated by the despot. But, by being there he will have shown the regime its moral nakedness and challenged its legitimacy. The cry for justice and mercy will not ultimately be silenced.

Because this is part of our problem. It is not only that some refuse the invitation of God to share his abundant love and generosity. It is all too easy for us human beings to try and block that love and prevent it from reaching others. You know very well, dear brothers and sisters, what it means to have doors locked in your faces by those who claim the name of Christians and Anglicans. You know how those who by their greed and violence have refused the grace of God try to silence your worship and frustrate your witness in the churches and schools and hospitals of this country. But you also know what Jesus’ parable teaches us so powerfully – that the will of God to invite people to his feast is so strong that it can triumph even over these mindless and Godless assaults. Just as the Risen Jesus breaks through the locked doors of fear and suspicion, so he continues to call you and empower you in spite of all efforts to defeat you. And in the Revelation to John, the Lord proclaims that he has set before us an open door that no-one can shut. It is the door of his promise, the door of his mercy, the door into the feast of his Kingdom.

In your faith and endurance, you have kept your eyes on that open door when the doors of your own churches have been shut against you. You have discovered that it is not the buildings that make a true church but the spiritual foundations on which your lives are built. And as we together give thanks for the open door that God puts before us, we may even find the strength to say to our enemies and persecutors, ‘The door is open for you! Accept what God offers and turn away from the death-dealing folly of violence.’

The General Election is now well under way in the UK. The three major parties (and some of the others) have launched their manifestos and the media are churning out words and graphics like there is no tomorrow… which there won’t be if some parties get their way. The people I have spoken with in the last couple of days are smitten with a bewildered apathy that is sceptical about the content within the rhetoric of the party leaders and spokespeople.

I was particularly intrigued by the Tories’ push to get people out volunteering in their communities. Er… haven’t they noticed the huge amount of volunteers already active in their communities through churches and other organisations that gain no benefit other than to serve their communities? Maybe they have. But, what I will be looking for is a government that will stop inundating schools with initiatives, recognise the problems of getting governors able to handle the task demanded of them, and stop trying to get good governance on the cheap. (Oh, and get rid of the soul-destroying box-ticking culture that the Tories brought in under Thatcher and New Labour made even worse.)

However, whoever wins the election, there won’t be any vast ideological change in the life of the country. Contrast our apathy and cynicism with that of another country with which I am familiar and have close links: Zimbabwe.

The rule of law is simply disregarded under Robert Mugabe. He may be recognised as ‘the Liberator’ by some Africans, but he has gone on to preside over the ruin of his country and the oppression of his people. The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe has borne the brunt of targeted violence and persecution for many years. The corrupt ex-Bishop of Harare, Dr Nolbert Kunonga, has been excommunicated by the Anglican Communion and is not recognised as an Anglican Bishop. The same goes for Elson Jakazi in Manicaland. Yet, despite court rulings in favour of the Anglican Province and dioceses (in relation to property and freedom to worship), Kunonga intimidates faithful Anglicans and gets backing from the police. So much for the rule of law.

This is the latest from Harare, where other denominations are now beginning to recognise that this is not an intra-Anglican (or ‘just a church’) problem, but a human rights problem that goes to the heart of the country’s culture:

Our experience over the last two weeks is that the persecution seems to have intensified. Police are openly telling our people to attend Dr. Kunonga’s services only and continue to prohibit them from worshipping in their churches as per Judge President Makarawu’s judgment and Justice Bhunu’s judgment of the 3rd March 2010. The former allowed for sharing of church buildings for worship until the courts give their final judgment on the matter and the latter endorsed that judgment. Whereas in the past some of our congregations used to hold their services outside of their church buildings, the police are driving them away telling them that they cannot meet outside anywhere near the church buildings. We are completely baffled by the behavior of the Zimbabwe Republic Police in this matter. We have persistently asked why they are being used to prop up Dr. Kunonga by actively telling people that our church properties belong to him and therefore our members should attend his Church services only. Nobody has given us any answers. We continue to raise our grave concern over the police partisan involvement in the affairs of our church, abuse of our rights and disregard of Court Orders and Rulings. We also continue to ask; Who will police the police? Have they officially become a law unto themselves? To whom can we turn for help? Who will listen to our plight?

Last Sunday 11/04/2010

  1. Police went to St. Mark’s Church, Ruwa and drove our members away from both the church and church premises. When the congregation decided to meet at the priest’s house the police prohibited them from doing so. What right do they have to stop even this? The priest of this church received a text message from Kunonga’s priest telling him not to use the church or else “what they did at St. Faith’s Church, Budiriro will happen to them”. St. Faith’s Church, Budiriro is where riot police tear-gassed our people on a Sunday morning and then followed it up on a Thursday afternoon with tear-gassing Mother’s Union members who were worshipping away from the church in the open air. This is further proof of that Dr. Kunonga’s priests are working in cahoots with the police.
  2. Our Cathedral congregation was told by the police not to meet anywhere near the Cathedral next week or else they will face the wrath of the police.
  3. At Holy Trinity Church, Ruwa acting Officer-in-Charge assistant Inspector Ngoshi and Sergeant Major Chibaya force number 044621A drove our congregation out telling them that they had orders to stop their service because they were to leave the Church to Kunonga’s group even though he hasn’t got a single member in that area.
  4. At St. Alban’s Church, Chiweshe where I had gone for a Confirmation Service- the church doors were welded from inside and so we could not go in as we had intended. We only managed to remove a pin on one of the hinges but could not go in. As a result we had our service in the open air. Rev’d. Mangava, Kunonga’s resident priest/untrained teacher called the police telling them that we had broken into the church. Police arrived just before the end of our service only to find a pin that had been removed and nothing broken. For that, about six people including the two priests who were with me had to go to Glendale police station to give evidence – a process that took forever. I followed them. No charges were brought against them but we reported the damage that was caused to our church building by the welding of doors and other devices used to prevent us from going in. We await a court hearing. What’s amazing is the ease with which even Dr. Kunonga’s priests call the police, tell them what to do and how they in turn easily comply.
  5. A number of our congregations are using other denominations church buildings (we are very grateful for their generosity) while some use school buildings and others continue to meet in the open air.

Thank you for your messages of solidarity and assurances of your prayer support. We don’t lose heart in spite of all the challenges we are facing.

This is the tip of an oppressive iceberg. It puts the niceties of our UK election in perspective, but also compels us to recognise the importance of valuing democracy, not taking for granted the rule of law, and taking responsibility for shaping our own country’s future.

Nkosi sikelel iAfrica.

The Anglican bishops, meeting in Bulawayo for the consecration of Bishop Cleophas Lunga on Sunday 1 March 2009, issued the following statement. It deserves wider acknowledgement, so I publish it here.

welcome-to-zimbabweStatement on the Government of National Unity by the Bishops of the Church of the Province of Central Africa at the Consecration of the Right Reverend Cleophas Lunga as Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Matabeleland on the 1st Sunday of Lent 1st March 2009 at the Parish Church of St Columbus, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

We the Bishops of the Province of Central Africa in holding and believing that all people are created equal in the image of God and that God wills his people to live their lives to its full potential abundantly, cautiously welcome the formation of the Government of National Unity in Zimbabwe.

This development comes after a long period of political polarisation which created immense suffering of the people. However we are concerned about the continued detention of some political and human rights activists which is indicative of business as usual contrary to the spirit and objectives of Global Agreement. The continued detention of the activists is not conducive to the spirit of reconciliation and to the promotion of peace and justice. Justice delayed is justice denied.

The Bishops of this Province urge the political leaders in this formation to put the interests of the people and the development of the nation in the fore. The leaders of the Government of National Unity should think profoundly and reflectively on the past weaknesses such as corruption, patronage, selfishness and regionalism and avoid them by dedicating themselves to the promotion of the rule of law, respect of human rights and good governance.

The bishops pray that the parties involved will faithfully commit themselves to the fulfilment and spirit of the objectives enshrined in the Global Agreement. This demands a high level of transparency and consultation for all parties involved.

We urge our people to play an active role in the success of the Government of National Unity by fervent prayer and safeguarding the gospel values of love, peace and righteousness. We further ask our people to genuinely reconcile themselves to one another and above to our God of peace and justice.

God bless Africa

God bless Zimbabwe

Guard her children

Guide her leaders

Give her peace for Jesus Christ’s sake

Bishop Ishmael Mukuwanda (President of the Service), Central Zimbabwe Bishop Godfrey Tawonezvi (ACZ Chairman), Masvingo Bishop Sebastian Bakare, Harare CPCA Bishop Peter Hatendi, Manicaland CPCA Bishop Trevor Mwamba, Botswana Bishop Robert Mumbi (ZAC Presiding Bishop), Luapula Bishop Derek Kamukwamba, Central Zambia Bishop David Njovu, Lusaka Bishop William Mchombo (Acting Provincial Secretary), Eastern Zambia