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Anglican Leader Visits Zimbabwe Amid Dispute Over Renegade Cleric

Anglican spiritual leader Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury greets the congregants gathered at the City Sports Center in Harare on October 9, 2011.
Anglican spiritual leader Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury greets the congregants gathered at the City Sports Center in Harare on October 9, 2011.

Thousands of jubilant Zimbabweans packed into a Harare sports stadium Sunday to pray and sing with the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican community, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Williams, accompanied by all the bishops of central and southern Africa, praised Zimbabwean Anglicans for continuing to worship even though most of them have no churches in which to pray as they have been taken over by a renegade bishop loyal to President Robert Mugabe.

The archbishop of Canterbury was cheered when he addressed a crowd of about 15,000 Anglicans who came from around the country to pray with him. They applauded the archbishop throughout his sermon, in which he said Zimbabwe had been blessed with rich natural resources including minerals, but some of them, he said, were cursed.

“We have begun to see how this mineral wealth can be a curse as it so often has been in Africa as people are killed and communities destroyed in the fight for diamonds that will forever be marked with the blood of the innocent," he said.

Williams was referring to diamonds mined in eastern Zimbabwe in great secrecy, with returns from sales of the stones not fully accounted for. An unknown number of people died in clashes with the security forces in 2008 when artisanal miners were kicked out of the alluvial diamond fields.

Williams did not refer to President Mugabe or his ZANU-PF party by name but said he knows that Zimbabwe’s Anglicans understand what it means to have doors locked in their faces and to lose the ability to make witness in their churches, schools and hospitals.

Renegade bishop Norbert Kunonga, who supports Mr. Mugabe and who has been backed by the police and the courts, has taken control of all of Harare's 32 Anglican churches, rectories, and several mission schools, clinics and even an orphanage.

To the crowd in the sports stadium, the archbishop of Canterbury said Zimbabwe had been blessed with natural resources, land and minerals, and he recalled Zimbabwe’s colonial past. “It was just this natural wealth that provoked the greed of colonists and imperialists of the past. For a long period in this country an anxious ruling class clung onto the power they had seized at the expense of the indigenous people and ignored their rights and their hopes for dignity and political freedom," he said.

William said he regrets that the end of colonialism had not brought Zimbabweans the freedom they had worked for. “How tragic that this should be replaced by another kind of lawlessness where so many live in daily fear of attack if they fail to comply with what the powerful require of them," he said.

Williams made reference to the seizure of white-owned farm land beginning in 2000, an act that spurred the collapse of Zimbabwe's economy and contributed to food shortages. “God had given so many gifts to this land. It has the capacity to feed all its people and more. Its mineral wealth is great. But we have seen years when the land has not been used to feed people and lies idle," he said.

Kunonga, the renegade bishop excommunicated by the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa in 2007, led a small demonstration outside the Anglican Cathedral which he seized and which attracts few people to its Sunday services. He maintains he was wrongfully excommunicated because he opposed homosexuality.

“People have rejected, they refused to be associated with homosexuality. Rowan Williams has erred by accepting homosexuality that has divided the church all over the world. He is a silly man," he said.

Before arriving in Zimbabwe from Mozambique early Sunday, the archbishop of Canterbury said he hoped to see President Mugabe on Monday.

And at the worship service, he told the Anglicans who packed the sports center, instead of the cathedral seized by Kunonga, that he hopes Zimbabwe’s next elections will be peaceful.