White Anglicans snub black priests in Zimbabwe

Published January 1, 2000

Harare, Zimbabwe

Black priests in the Anglican church in Zimbabwe say they are not allowed to baptize, marry or bury white parishioners.

At least four priests have resigned from their parishes in Harare because of the alleged racism. The dean of the Harare diocese, Simukai Mutamangira, admits the church has a serious racism problem.

“We have very capable black priests in the country, but appointments to the key positions are rare for them,” he said, adding that he had been a victim of segregation in the church after suggesting the use of traditional African musical instruments in church services.

“I was misquoted as having tried to impress the gathering, and trying to do away with Western instruments. I was simply saying the church should bring in the African tradition.” (Traditional instruments, such as drums, are said by those opposed to their use in Christian service to evoke dead spirits and are therefore “devilish.”)

Dean Mutamangira said there was open hostility about such issues within the church. Some parishes had become the “preserve” of whites. Black priests were upset at the situation, he said.

Another priest, Godfrey Tawonezvi, told a local weekly newspaper that he had ministered at one parish for three years, “but I never baptized a white child, married white couples or buried any white person.” He added that whenever the white rector was not available, white parents would hire white priests from other parishes to perform baptisms, some more than 160 kilometres away. Often, the white parents would claim the out-of-town priests were family friends or relatives.

Mr. Tawonezvi said that for one baptism a black parent had asked for a hymn in Shona, the language spoken by most Zimbabweans, but the white rector refused, saying it was not his usual practice.

Another priest, Josphat Muzami, said he had attended a church wedding in a wealthy suburb of Harare and had been forced to move to a back row in the church.

He said that “as a priest I had to attend the wedding, and took one of the front seats. When I did this, my senior priest, who was white, then kindly told me that the wedding couple, who were also white, did not want a black face to appear on their video.”

Black priests are also angry that the Harare cathedral bears dedications to colonial settlers who contributed to the formation of white Rhodesia. Even the dead dogs of the colonizers are mentioned, the priests point out. (Zimbabwe gained its independence in April 1980.) One inscription states: “To the Glory of God and to the memory of all transport animals and police dogs that died in service from 1890 onwards. They helped to make Rhodesia.”

Bishop Jonathan Siyachitema, of Harare, said recently that the church had made major efforts to address the racism problem. He could, however, not give details of proposed actions.

Last year he appointed a five-member social responsibility and public relations committee to look into racism and other problems faced by the church. The committee drew up a questionnaire on racism, but when it was about to be sent out, the bishops refused to allow the survey to go ahead. Members of the committee resigned in protest, and the committee was later dissolved.


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