Zimbabwe: Rise, Fall of Kunonga

AT St Paul's Anglican Parish in Harare, a 58-year old plaque reads: "Erected April 1954 by the generosity of the people of Marlborough".

And yet for the past five years, the generality of the Anglican Church flock in Marlborough worshiped in the wilderness after having been barred from the church premises they generously funded.

But last Sunday, they trooped back in their numbers to the parish after the heavens smiled back at them.

Their homecoming was made possible by last week's Supreme Court judgment which kicked out disgraced former Anglican bishop, Nolbert Kunonga and his followers from properties belonging to the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) that he forcibly seized in 2007.

To devout Anglicans across the country, their return to their spiritual sanctuaries was confirmation that ultimately good triumphs over evil.

But to ordinary believers and non-believers alike in Zimbabwe, it's a tale of how the mighty have fallen.

From the beginning, Kunonga appeared to have been blinded by power, forgetting he was leading an unpopular cause that was doomed from the start.

While the Bible says thou shall not judge, there are others who strongly believe that Kunonga chose to follow his own personal will ahead of his divine calling, but in the end fate and providence decided otherwise.

When Kunonga broke away from the CPCA, not many people followed him.

In a recent interview, Kunonga himself put the number of his followers at the time at 10.

He said: "When those people left, they left me, my wife, a few priests and a few congregants and we totalled a number of 10... When they went away, I went into the streets, looked for men and ordained them so that they could go and preach in the name of God".

But even after going all out in the streets to "fish men", Kunonga could not attract significant followers.

Many a times when he opened his mouth, it was for purposes of instilling public derision - at best at his Anglican rivals and at worst at Movement for Democratic Change leaders.

In most of his teachings, he displayed an almost fanatical devotion to ZANU-PF, which made him friends to hardliners within the party.

To critics, the path Kunonga and his allies took had all the hallmarks of an atheist.

His actions, his utterances, his intolerance, his weird ideas; betrays one who claimed that his was a heavenly call.

For a man who lived as if the world revolved around him, Kunonga was not even graceful in defeat.

After the Supreme Court verdict that did not go his way, the bishop of the Province of Zimbabwe insulted judges who delivered the verdict saying they had endorsed homosexuality.

If it were somewhere else, his outburst after the judgement was delivered could have seen him prosecuted for contempt of court.

Kunonga used the gay rights issue as a trump card to endear himself with ZANU-PF, alleging he left the CPCA because it supports gays.

Analysts say Kunonga came short on delivering the numbers ZANU-PF so desperately wanted: Without the numbers, he became a liability and could not be relied upon ahead of general polls next year.

The extent of the former bishop's unpopularity with Anglicans was on display last Sunday as services that were previously shunned when he was in charge, recorded overwhelming numbers.

At the St Paul Parish in Marlborough on Sunday, Pastor Sam Vusa Sifelani told parishioners that, "God heals in his own time and is always on the side of the powerless".

The pastor recalled how their diocese had approached Vice President John Nkomo in a national healing context as well as the co-ministers of Home Affairs Kembo Mohadi and Theresa Makone for them to be allowed to make their annual pilgrimage to Bernard Mzeki, but Kunonga remained unyielding.

The pastor also reminded his flock that there was a time when he urged them to come with wet towels to use once police fired teargas canisters at them, but last Sunday, the law enforcement agents came to protect them.

Pastor Sifelani said their ordeal showed that oppression unites people, while a life without trials and tribulations breed what he termed "institutional amnesia."

He added that Anglicans had a lot to thank God for as their return to their places of worship coincided with Harvest Day or Thanksgiving, when believers thank God for blessing them throughout the year.

The latest development was described as an early Christmas present for Bishop Gandiya's flock.

This week, political analyst, Gilbert Dzikiti, said despite his previous political posturing, Kunonga is now irrelevant to ZANU-PF as he no longer has a constituency.

Dzikiti said Kunonga's opinions used to carry weight because of the Anglican Church name, but after being vanquished, that authority has all but evaporated.

"He is now out of the political equation because he does not have a constituency. ZANU-PF could not continue backing him because he alienated most of the urban areas. He has reached a dead end and at the moment he is just a doctor, an unemployed doctor," said Dzikiti.

Kunonga studied spiritual matters deeply and is heavily schooled in secular issues too.

He has five degrees, including a BSc degree in Sociology and Political Science, BA in Religious Studies and PhD in Religious Studies and African History, among other qualifications.

However, despite all that theological theory and practice most of his public addresses were poor in advancing the scriptures, but rich in pushing a certain political line.

In violation of the sacred character of many parishes, during his reign, many churches were turned into money spinning ventures in addition to other destructive, blasphemous, or sacrilegious actions.

The desecration can only remind believers of Mathew 21:12 -13, which says: "And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, 'it is written, my house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.'"

So as it was during those times, modern day desecrators were thrown outside the Anglican Church last week.

After all, Anglicans also prayed that if he could do it for Hanna and Lazarus and the centurion's servant; if he could turn water into wine and if he could rebuke the wind and stormy waters, he could still do it for them. He did!

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