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Bishop 'besmirching church'

23/08/2005 20:39 - (SA)

Michael Hartnack

Harare - An Anglican bishop who is a strong supporter of President Robert Mugabe was brought before an ecclesiastical court investigating charges ranging from inciting murder to besmirching the church.

On Tuesday, Jeremy Lewis, acting as prosecutor, postponed pursuing the most serious incitement to murder charge against Bishop Nolbert Kunonga.

The 55-year-old clergyman arrived wearing a jewelled cross over his dark suit and crimson shirt at Tuesday's hearing held in a golf clubhouse across the road from one of Mugabe's official residences.

Kunonga had not yet been asked to admit or deny the charges, for which he could be expelled from the church, defrocked or merely reprimanded.  If convicted, he could appeal within the hierarchy of the 200-million member global Anglican family of churches.

Local church refuses to provide funding

The case was the culmination of a long series of disputes between Kunonga and parishioners and other members of the clergy, who bought the charges. The local Anglican Church had refused to provide funding for the prosecution, which was being financed by international donations. Other charges alleged Kunonga intimidated and improperly fired priests, ignored church law, commandeered bank accounts and foreign exchange, and "brought the diocese into contempt". He also was accused of ordering the removal of Cathedral memorials to Zimbabweans killed in the first and second world wars as well as pioneers of former white-ruled Rhodesia and to victims of the 1972-1980 independence war.

Archbishop Bernard Malanga, head of the Church of the Province of Central Africa, which had authority over Zimbabwe, appointed Malawian supreme court judge James Kalaile to hear the case with Zambian bishops Leonard Mwenda and Albert Chama assisting. Kalaile was a prominent lay member of the Anglican Church in Malawi.

Priest can't give evidence from UK

James Matizha, defending council, won an adjournment until Thursday, claiming charges had been changed at the last minute. Prosecutor Lewis said Kunonga was apprised of the charges two years ago. 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 in neighbouring Malawi. The incitement to murder charge might be heard later in Malawi.

Kunonga was accused of inciting members of Mugabe's feared Central Intelligence Organisation and "war veterans" militia to murder 10 of his critics in the local Anglican hierarchy. Mukunga allegedly received letters from Kunonga in 2003 with instructions to pass them on to the intelligence organisation and war veterans, urging them to "meet" the bishop's critics.

August 23, 2005 in Church of Zimbabwe | Permalink

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