A Zimbabwean High Court Justice has nullified an earlier court ruling allowing the seizure of Anglican church properties by the former Bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga.
The ruling came just days after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, met with President Robert Mugabe to ask him to intervene to end the bitter and at times violent dispute between the Anglican Church he recognizes and Kunonga's breakaway sect.
High Court Justice Chinembiri Bhunu overturned a ruling used to evict administrators, teachers and nursing staff form the Daramombe Mission near Chivu, and stripped Kunonga of any legal powers to continue evictions and property seizures.
Kunonga was ordered along with Bishop Alfred Munyanyi, his spokesman, not to interfere in operations at the Daramombe Mission orphanage.
Bhunu's in his judgment said Kunonga acted illegally after an application for a stay was entered by the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa now led by Bishop Nicholas Chad Gandiya, who took part in Williams's meeting with Mr. Mugabe.
An earlier ruling by Justice Ben Hlatshwayo found that Kunonga in his role as the head of the Harare diocese trustees had the authority to seize all properties owned by the diocese, no matter where they were located. Along with the Daramombe orphanage, properties at the St. John’s Mission and the Shearley Cripps Home orphanage in Murewa, home to about 100 children, were seized.
In a separate ruling the Church of the Province of Central Africa was given authority to control the All Saints Zimunya Church in eastern Mutare after the ex-communicated bishop Elson Jakazi sought to take control of the church and its properties.
Kunonga faction spokesman Bishop Alfred Munyanyi said his faction will appeal the ruling, but in the meantime will keep seizing properties based on the prior ruling.
Spokesman Precious Shumba of the Church of the Province of Central Africa said that although it was unclear if the latest ruling was influenced by the meeting between the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mr. Mugabe, the court rulings are legally correct.
Shumba said members of the authorized Anglican Church in Zimbabwe are celebrating the decision, noting that appeals regarding other seized properties are in the courts.
Christian Alliance National Director Useni Sibanda told reporter Sithandekile Mhlanga that the archbishop's plea to the president might have borne upon the court ruling in some way as the justice system is perceived to be politically influenced.