Primates express ‘horror’ at Zimbabwe crisis

Published February 4, 2009

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

Alexandria, Egypt

Zimbabwe’s economic and socio-political breakdown is a “matter of grave concern,” Anglican primates said in a Feb. 3 statement calling on President Robert Mugabe to step down and urging “the implementation of the rule of law and the restoration of democratic processes” in the devastated African nation.

The statement, which noted “with horror the appalling difficulties” in Zimbabwe under the current regime, was released to the media on the third day of the primates’ Feb. 1 to 5 meeting, being held behind closed doors at the Helnan Palestine Hotel in Alexandria, Egypt.

Anglicans in Zimbabwe’s Diocese of Harare have faced ongoing harassment and violence from President Mugabe’s police force in an attempt to stop them from worshipping. Renegade Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, an avid Mugabe supporter, still claims ownership of the Anglican churches despite being officially excommunicated in May 2008.

In their statement, the primates say that they do not recognize Mr. Kunonga as a bishop within the Anglican Communion, and call for “the full restoration of Anglican property within Zimbabwe to the Church of the Province of Central Africa.”

Mr. Kunonga was replaced in December 2007 by Bishop Sebastian Bakare, who is supported by the majority of the country’s Anglicans.

“We give thanks to God for the faithful witness of the Christians of Zimbabwe during this time of pain and suffering, especially those who are being denied access to their churches,” the primates say in their statement. “We wish to assure them of our love, support and prayers as they face gross violation of human rights, hunger and loss of life as well as the scourge of a cholera epidemic.”

President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party continue to hold onto power despite being defeated by the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, in the March 2008 elections. The primates called this illegitimate rule a “flagrant disregard of the outcome of the democratic elections” and acknowledged that there is “an apparent breakdown of the rule of law within the country, and that the democratic process is being undermined.

“There appears to be a total disregard for life, consistently demonstrated by Mr. Mugabe through systematic kidnap, torture and the killing of Zimbabwean people,” the statement continued.

The primates are calling for the appointment of a representative to go to Zimbabwe “to exercise a ministry of presence and to show solidarity with the Zimbabwean people.”

They also urge action to deal with the humanitarian crisis and for the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury to facilitate ways in which “food and other material aid for Zimbabwe can be distributed through the dioceses of the Church of the Province of Central Africa.”

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Southern Africa and the Rt. Rev. Albert Chama, dean of the Anglican Province of Central Africa, had addressed the primates about Zimbabwe in an evening session on Feb. 2. They spoke to the media in a press briefing the following day.

“We explained the urgency of the situation — the total collapse of the economy and socio-political infrastructure — and appealed to the primates to assist in whatever humanitarian needs they could provide to Zimbabwe,” said Archbishop Makgoba at the Feb. 3 press conference.

“On March 31, the people of Zimbabwe spoke loud and clear in terms of the election,” said Archbishop Makgoba, “but Mugabe is still holding to illegitimate power and he needs to step down, as our statement says.” He said that the cholera epidemic is “really ravaging the people of Zimbabwe” and that the number of refuges fleeing the country is “countless.”

“If we don’t intervene we will be failing God in terms of ‘when I was hungry you fed me and when I was poor you cared for my needs,'” said Archbishop Makgoba.

Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu and Archbishop of York John Sentamu have both suggested that military intervention could be justified to overthrow Mugabe. In December 2007, Sentamu cut up his clerical collar on live television and vowed not to wear it again until Mugabe’s rule came to an end.

Asked for his view on Archbishop Sentamu’s comments about armed intervention, Archbishop Makgoba said, “You need to explore all available avenues before you throw in the towel.” Speaking about his experience with apartheid in South Africa, Makgoba said it was important to “pull out all the stops” to ensure that the rule of law was implemented, “but I am pained to suggest military intervention because God’s people will be affected.”

In their statement, the primates urged the churches of the Anglican Communion to join with the Anglican Church of Southern Africa in observing Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25 as a day of prayer and solidarity with the Zimbabwean people.

The primates spent more time than expected Feb. 3 reviewing a report from the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG), which Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has asked be kept private until the primates have concluded their meeting.

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said there had been a variety of responses to the report but that she wished to honor Archbishop Williams’ request not to discuss the contents publicly.

The group, which last met in December 2008, is charged with addressing questions arising from the Windsor Report, such as recommended bans on same-gender blessings, cross-border interventions and the ordination of gay and lesbian people to the episcopate.

In other business, the primates discussed a report from the Theological Education in the Anglican Communion (TEAC) working group, and in an evening session addressed the issue of global warming.

Archbishop Williams has repeatedly underscored theological education as a priority for the Anglican Communion. The primates endorsed a second phase of TEAC to “focus on resourcing and supporting theological educators,” Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, spokesperson for the primates, told the media Feb. 3. TEAC2 will “sustain and continue ongoing projects developed by TEAC1,” such as supplying textbooks to Anglican theological institutions and the translation of educational materials.

Echoing comments from other primates,Bishop Jefferts Schori said that she is finding that “people are much more engaged in community and willingness to dialogue at this meeting than the last,” acknowledging that the absence of various lobbying groups could be a factor in that.

Sudanese Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul arrived in Alexandria on Feb. 3 after resolving visa problems, bringing the number of primates attending the meeting to 34. Primates absent from the meeting are those from North India, Pakistan, the Philippines and South India.

The primates are being served by two chaplains; the Samy Fawzy Shehata., newly installed dean of St. Mark’s Pro-Cathedral in Alexandria, and Rev. Drew Schmotzer, assistant to President Bishop Mouneer Anis of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the host province for the five-day meeting.

On Feb. 4, the primates will address Anglican relief and development concerns and visit the ancient library in Alexandria, which dates back to the third century BC.


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