Trial of Harare bishop collapses in farce
By Peta Thornycroft in Harare
(Filed: 26/08/2005)

The ecclesiastical trial of an Anglican bishop who is an ardent supporter of President Robert Mugabe ended in farce yesterday when the presiding judge withdrew from the case before a plea had been heard.

Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, 55, the head of the Diocese of Harare, had been accused by priests and parishioners of 11 charges ranging from incitement to commit murder to bringing the Anglican church into disrepute. He rejects the charges .

But the trial, ordered by Archbishop Bernard Malanga, the head of the Church of the Province of Central Africa in Malawi which has authority over Zimbabwe, was quickly bogged down in technicalities and adjournments raised by the defence.

Judge James Kalaile, from the Malawian Supreme Court, told the court, mostly filled with black Anglicans gathered to give evidence against their bishop: "I have not in my years as a judge in Malawi or elsewhere heard anything like this dispute. I will contact the archbishop and ask him to appoint another judge."

Minutes after proceedings began, the defence attorney James Matizha demanded 17 pages of "further particulars" of the Church's case against his client.

Jeremy Lewis, the prosecuting barrister who is a prominent Anglican, said the objections were "vexatious" and out of step with ecclesiastical justice and intent. "The bishop has not even been asked to plead. Let him admit or deny the charges, that is why we are all here," he said.

Pauline Makoni, another leading Zimbabwean Anglican who travelled from London to give evidence against the bishop, said: "Our canons remain broken, our case against the bishop will not go away, we will continue." Wearing a cerise cassock and surrounded by family members, Bishop Kunonga emerged from the courtroom, convened at Harare Royal Golf Club, smiling broadly and claiming victory.

Bishop Kunonga would only speak to Zimbabwe's state media after the hearing. He is an open supporter of Mr Mugabe, who has given him at least two farms seized from their white owners.

An Anglican priest, Rev James Mukunga, who fled Zimbabwe last year, claimed in an affidavit signed in London last week that Bishop Kunonga had solicited assistance from state security agents and militant war veterans loyal to Mr Mugabe to have 10 "unruly" parishioners and priests killed because they opposed his tenure at Harare cathedral.

The chancellor of the Harare diocese, Bob Stumbles, who Bishop Kunonga has tried to sack, said: "I understand this case may now be investigated to see if charges can be brought against the bishop in the civil court."

The allegations against the bishop, had they culminated in a full trial, would have been the first time charges of such a serious nature would have been decided by the Anglican Church in Africa.

24 August 2005: Church court puts Mugabe bishop on trial
18 February 2003: Harare judge who cleared opposition mayor is held
12 January 2002: Prelate attacks Zimbabwe Anglicans

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.
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August 26, 2005 in Church of Zimbabwe | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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 | Comments (0) | TrackBack