The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has requested a meeting with President Robert Mugabe during a visit to Zimbabwe in October. The archbishop will also visit Malawi and Zambia on a trip his spokesman says is a pastoral visit.
A spokesman for the archbishop said the visit to Zimbabwe is intended to show support for the Anglican church in Harare, and to witness church development initiatives.
He stressed that Williams has no plans to meet former Harare Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, who resigned from the Anglican Church in 2007 saying he could not countenance its position on homosexuality, formed his own church, and was later excommunicated.
Kunonga was at odds with the Anglican Church over his ardent support of President Robert Mugabe, and has continued to enjoy the support of the Zimbabwe Republic Police in his ongoing dispute with Anglicans in the Diocese of Harare over control of church properties, and with his successor, Bishop Chad Gandiya.
"The aim of the trip as a whole is a pastoral visit and it's to show solidarity with Anglicans there, that's really the aim of the trip," the spokesman said.
It will be the first time in a decade that a British representative of the Anglican church has been in Zimbabwe. The request to meet with Mr. Mugabe comes amid continued conflict between those in the Zimbabwe church loyal to Kunonga and those who follow Bishop Chad Gandiya, who represents the Church of the Province of Central Africa.
Precious Shumba, spokesman for Gandiya's Harare Diocese, said the archbishop’s visit is most welcome as it will confer legitimacy on the Anglican community in Zimbabwe.
The conflict between the two Anglican factions heated up again on Wednesday with the arrest of Reverend Julius Zimbudzana at St. Mary’s Parish in Highlands. Sources said police took Zimbudzana, a Gandiya supporter, into custody in connection with the alleged disappearance of church property worth 1.5 million dollars.
Gandiya said in an e-mail that police are being used to intimidate and traumatize priests who have refused to vacate rectories and pave the way for Kunonga to take full control of church properties based on a recent Supreme Court ruling, now being appealed.
The Gandiya faction said the police are doing Kunonga’s bidding and have also recently evicted Reverend Farai Kuwanda of St. Aidan's Church in Chitungwiza, near Harare.
Spokesman Mike Chingore of the Church of the Province of Central Africa, which named Gandiya to his post, told VOA reporter Sandra Nyaira that Kunonga is not custodian of church properties, so he has no right to evict priests or have them arrested.
The Supreme Court decision gave Kunonga temporary custody of Diocese of Harare properties until such time as the dispute over the control of assets is resolved.