21 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Kunonga Under Probe

THE world has started crumbling around former Anglican Church bishop, Nolbert Kunonga and his allies who are now under investigation over their handling of funds and assets belonging to the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA), The Financial Gazette can exclusively reveal.

On Monday, nearly five years after Kunonga pulled out of the CPCA, the Supreme Court ordered him to hand over all church properties in his possession to his rivals -- ending the confusion that rocked the Anglican Church since 2007.

But this could just be the beginning of worse things to come for Kunonga and his associates.

The CPCA this week said it has instituted an audit of church properties to get a full picture of the current situation.

The investigation could, however, result in the disgraced clergyman and his followers being called to account for their actions unless if everything is found to be in order.

A spokesperson for bishop Chad Gandiya, who leads the CPCA Harare Diocese, said any anomalies unearthed during the probe would be reported to the police.

"Church wardens and clergy and their church councils are busy examining the amount of damage done to the structures, the missing items, and police reports would be lodged to ensure that everything that has been moved without CPCA's authority is accounted for. We are certain that they (Kunonga and his clique) will be exposing each other," said Precious Shumba, spokesperson for bishop Gandiya.

When Kunonga broke away from the CPCA to form the Province of Zimbabwe, he sought to endear himself to elements within ZANU-PF by harping on issues that resonate with the revolutionary party's hardliners in order to secure their backing.

He argues that he was forced to cut ties with the CPCA because it tolerated homosexuality. The CPCA denies this.

This had appeared to work in his favour as Kunonga's faction started to enjoy police protection, resulting in the arrest of several CPCA priests on trumped up charges.The CPCA's followers were also subjected to violence with no protection from the State.

His support within ZANU-PF -- a party which considers gays and lesbians as worse than dogs -- started diminishing last year with some of its heavyweights increasingly viewing Kunonga as a liability ahead of next year's general elections.

Highly-placed sources said Kunonga became irrelevant in the party's scheme of things because he did not command any meaningful support within the Anglican Church which ZANU-PF could ride on and had touched a raw nerve by running down schools that were close to the hearts of many.

What could not help matters was that Kunonga's case was as weak as a kitten.

At the height of his power, Kunonga and his allies took over Anglican Church properties such as schools, hospitals, care centres, land and buildings.

The properties included St Augustine's High School, Kubatana Vocational Training Centre, Bonda Mission, St Mary Magdalene's Mission School, Daramombe Mission and Primary School, the Bernard Mzeki shrine in Marondera, St Johns Chikwaka Mission, Shearley Cripps Children's Home in Murehwa, residential stands, the Anglican Cathedral and PAX House.

Most of these properties are now in a state of collapse due to neglect.

In January 2008, the High Court ordered Kunonga's faction to share church premises with the CPCA pending the finalisation of the matter by the Supreme Court, but the latter was denied access, often by violent means.

Attempts by the co-Ministers of Home Affairs Kembo Mohadi and Theresa Makone to get the parties to co-exist did not bear fruit. At one time, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai met Kunonga but failed to persuade him to share the church assets with his rivals.

But in a ruling by Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba, which was agreed to by Judge of Appeal Justice Vernanda Ziyambi, and Acting Judge of Appeal Justice Yunus Omerjee, the highest court on the land said Kunonga had left the Anglican Church and as such he was not entitled to its properties.

"It is common cause that the property belongs to the Church. It has a right to an order for vindication of its property from possessors who have no right to have it. The learned Judge was wrong in giving Dr Kunonga and his followers the right to possess and control the property of the Church without its consent. They had no right to continue in possession of the congregational buildings when they had departed from the fundamental principles and standards on which the Church is founded. They left it putting themselves beyond its ecclesiastical jurisdiction," reads part of the judgment.

"When one leaves a club one does not take its property with him or her. It has long been established as a salutary principle of law in this area of property ownership that when one or more people secede from an existing Church, they have no right to claim Church property even if those who remain members of the congregation are in the minority."

Human rights groups and political parties, among others, welcomed this week's closure to the Anglican Church saga.

In a statement, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), said the Supreme Court ruling had ended unprecedented assault on religious freedom.

ZLHR said the court decision reaffirms the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion as enshrined in Article 18 and 30 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article VIII of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, all of which emphasise that no one may be subjected to measures restricting the exercise of these freedoms.

"The landmark judgment that is, in our considered view, legally sound has put all perpetrators and potential perpetrators of rights violations on notice: the violation of religious rights will not be tolerated by the courts, and nobody is above the law -- including those who claim to be superior human beings by virtue of their allegiance and association to certain political parties," said the ZLHR.

"We recognise that there were also some judicial officers in the courts a quo who tried to protect the CPCA and several of the church's parishioners, but whose court orders were flagrantly defied with impunity, especially by State actors such as the police.

"This practice must be condemned and must come to an end, both to protect institutions and individuals who have had their rights violated, and in order to restore the dignity of the courts and public confidence in the justice delivery system."

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) said the court verdict is a warning to those who hide behind God to advance certain political goals.

"The MDC applauds the resilience and strength of the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa fellowship in their struggle against evil machinations fronted by Kunonga and warn other religious deviants who are abusing hapless congregants in the guise of indigenous churches to advance evil political gains that they also shall crumble like a deck of cards against the real and true power of God," said the MDC-T in a statement.

On Tuesday, Kunonga said he was not yet ready to comment about the judgment and to discuss his future.

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