A long and bitter legal battle over the control of Anglican Church property in Zimbabwe was settled Monday when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA).
The decision overturned an earlier High Court ruling giving control to the renegade independent Anglican province of Zimbabwe, led by ex-communicated Bishop Nolbert Kunonga.
The ruling brings to an end to a six-year battle, which resulted in thousands of CPCA parishioners evicted from their offices, churches, schools and other institutions by Kunonga and a few colleagues with the assistance of the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
The court, in the long-awaited ruling, also said Kunonga was not the bishop of the Harare diocese of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe.
Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba presided over a three-judge bench that heard the arguments last month in a consolidated appeal on the four cases in which the CPCA was seeking to overturn a High Court decision recognising Kunonga and six others as the trustees of the Diocese of Harare.
Justice Omerjee, who read the judgement, said: “When one leaves a club one does not take its property with him or her. It has long been established as a salutary principle of law in this area of property ownership that when one or more people secede from an existing church, they have no right to claim church property even if those who remain members of the congregation are in the minority.”
Speaking to ecstatic bishops and parishioners outside the Supreme Court moments after the ruling, Bishop Gandiya said the church has been vindicated.
Bishop Gandiya, who is currently operating from a temporary base in Avondale, said they expect to move into their offices and churches soon.
Kunonga and his followers left the CPCA in 2007 over the issue of homosexuality and proceeded to form their Anglican Church Province of Zimbabwe.
He was ex-communicated from the CPCA in May 2008 but did not surrender the church property and had started using the building for income generating projects.
The parties then took the dispute to the High Court where Justice Ben Hlatswayo temporarily gave control of the church property to Kunonga.
“Though the court did not give the time frame for Kunonga to leave CPCA premises, it is advisable for Kunonga to leave immediately before he is evicted,” said Gandiya.
Kunonga was not available for comment.