The five-year property wrangle between the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) and its defrocked Bishop Nolbert Kunonga came to an end last week when the former won the right to control the properties at the Supreme Court.
Following the CPCA’s victory, The Standard (TS) had an interview with the Church’s Bishop Chad Gandiya (CG) and following are the excerpts of the interview.
TS: May you kindly tell us how you feel following your victory?
CG: We are very happy. Yes, we are not yet back in our buildings although a few of our churches have been repossessed, but the people are celebrating.
TS: Can you give us examples of the excesses of the Kunonga era?
CG: The courts have ruled in our favour and we believe that is what is important now. We need not dwell in the past.
But yes, the situation was bad. As a church, we had no space of our own. We had to rent worship space. We had no sacred space. Worshipping under a tree for example is not the same as worshipping in a church with an altar. We had to rent accommodation for our clergy and cleaning staff.
We had to rent offices and space for running training programmes for the Diocese yet in the past we would use church and cathedral halls. It was a demanding situation in terms of finances.
We also have a cemetery at St Mary’s Chitungwiza where those priests and members that wished to be buried there were buried over the years. But we were being denied access to that cemetery over the past five years.
But we are happy we are not going back home empty-handed. Some of our churches for example bought 1 000 seater tents among the other stuff we acquired while in the wilderness, so we are rejoicing as we go back home.
TS: What would you say was the effect of the five-year wrangle on the church’s members in general?
CG: The situation that has just ended made our church very strong. We grew numerically and spiritually such that when they finally go back to their churches, some will have to expand because the numbers are now larger than in the past. Members also grew in their faith and this is shown by their commitment and support for the church. Members sacrificially gave to the church financially and otherwise. We also invested in training programmes and unlike in the past, we now have a once a year Diocesan wide conference which we will maintain going forward.
TS: There have been reports that you have said you are missing some church assets. Would you like to share with us what these assets are?
CG: It will be premature for me to quantify anything or to say we lost so much. We are currently carrying out an audit of the properties to avoid speculation. Once the audit is complete, we can then say we lost so much. We have such buildings as Parks House where there are tenants who pay monthly rentals. We currently do not know how many tenants are there and how much each of them is paying.
Yes, there is hearsay here and there but I would not want us to go with that. I have told our priests to inspect everything when they go back and we will wait for the complete audit to give us a clear picture.
TS: How much did your church spend in fighting Kunonga in the courts?
CG: We spent over US$200 000 over the past five years for the case. As you may know, Kunonga’s case was dismissed with costs so we hope to get our money back. But above all, we are just happy that we are back home.
TS: In your view, was Kunonga using the church property for church or business?
CG: I would not know really but going with what he said to the public, he was running a church. But what we have found out since the court ruling is that many of his subordinates were running businesses on the properties. They were renting the properties out to others.
TS: But how have you been received by the tenants at the properties? Are you facing any resistance?
CG: We cannot say we are facing any resistance as such. There are some, like at our Holy Trinity church in Ruwa, who have said they want to see the eviction order. We are getting that processed. We are waiting for the eviction order.
TS: It has been reported that a number of the churches are being used as private schools, colleges and crèches. Some of the owners have said they have no alternative place to take the children. What are you going to do with these given that the children innocently enrolled at the institutions?
CG: The first thing they have to understand is that they have been running those schools illegally. That space was not built for the purposes for which they were using it for. We however would like the children to finish their examinations. Those running the schools will need to negotiate with the various churches’ local councils and leaders. But as for next year, we want our churches for worship and thus these operations will have to cease.
TS: So, as you go back to the buildings, what are your priority areas of focus?
CG: Our priority areas going forward are multifaceted. We are going to be involved in a whole lot of programmes. We will rebuild and renovate our churches and we will continue with God’s mission, which is preaching and teaching. We will also continue with the provision of education through our various schools, we will continue with our farming projects, caring for the environment and caring for orphans.
Although we were suffering as a church, we continued to stand in solidarity with those who are suffering and this goes on. We were involved in the national healing process and we were involved in reconciliation as many members came back to the church and we accepted them just as we will continue doing so.
TS: There have been a view that you won because Kunonga failed to get votes for Zanu PF while others have said the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams’ visit to President Mugabe could have been the game changer. What is your comment?
CG: I honestly do not know anything about the Dr Kunonga bit. But about Williams’ visit, you may not be aware that he did not come straight from London to us here in Zimbabwe. He was a guest of the province and he came to Zimbabwe from Malawi and proceeded to Zambia. The purpose of his visit to Zimbabwe was to stand in solidarity with a suffering church.
But then there are the usual courtesies in these foreign visits. I believe it would have been really absurd of the Archbishop to come to Zimbabwe and not pay a courtesy call on the President. But we are grateful we also benefitted from that visit as it afforded us the chance to meet with the President and share with him what was happening to us.
You will also remember that there were numerous court cases and we lost in one, the one by [High Court Judge Ben] Hlatshwayo. The rest we won and he [Kunonga] appealed such that at the end, he only won appeals.