Tea with Mugabe: the Archbishop in Africa

Tea with Mugabe: the Archbishop confronts him with abuses over scones and jam

The Archbishop of Canterbury presented the President with a dossier documenting the abuses committed against the Zimbabwean Anglican Church

The Archbishop of Canterbury presented President Mugabe with a dossier documenting the abuses committed against Anglicans in Zimbabwe, as the two men discussed violence, land reform and homosexuality over tea, scones and jam yesterday afternoon in the comfort of State House in Harare.

Dr Williams sought to persuade Mr Mugabe, 87, to talk to Nolbert Kunonga, the excommunicated bishop who has harassed Anglicans for four years. “We have asked him that he use his powers as head of state to guarantee the security of those of his citizens who worship with the Anglican Church and to put an end to unacceptable and illegal behaviour,” the Archbishop said after the meeting.

“I think that if there’s a problem that is soluble without loss of political face, maybe he feels that he can do something about this.

“No president is ever going to say, ‘I don’t care about people being beaten up’, but I think there’s a real concern that this is a bit of a sore that he and others in government would like to see sorted. And he was fairly clear that he and his people would try to talk to Kunonga.”

Mr Kunonga’s renegade clergy have appropriated Anglican schools, clinics and rectories, driving out and beating the legitimate congregations. The dossier, which Zimbabwean bishops have compiled, asks Mr Mugabe to “put an end to this illegal harassment”.

“A head of state can always reasonably say, ‘I don’t know the details,’ at which I was able to say, ‘They’re all there’,” Dr Williams said. “So I don’t think he or his Government had an excuse.

“I think that the scale of the intimidation documented in the dossier was something with which he was not entirely familiar. He expressed his concern at the damage the division was doing to communities generally in Zimbabwe.”

Unusually, Mr Mugabe allowed Dr Williams to speak first, but then delivered an hour-long lecture on land reform — “from Harold Wilson to Tony Blair” — as he sat in his velvet armchair, sipping from a bone china teacup in a large, ornate room decorated with pale yellow damask curtains. Mr Mugabe’s spokesman had said that he would want to talk to the Archbishop about sanctions and expected him to “point to him what portion of the Great Book sanctions homosexuality”, but in fact the issue of homosexuality, which has drawn disapproval of Dr Williams from across the African continent, was only briefly discussed.

Mr Mugabe talked about his Roman Catholic upbringing, and reminded Dr Williams that the Church of England was a breakaway group from the Vatican. He then walked the Archbishop to the door, joking about his two startlingly lifelike stuffed lions, then abruptly slammed the doors shut.

The Archbishop commented that Mr Mugabe was “on top of things — intellectually”, but when asked if he seemed a Christian man, said: “ ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ isn’t the obvious thing to say about him.”

Dr Williams has spent the morning witnessing what has been done by Mr Kunonga. He and the African bishops with him had to pray in the open.

The security forces have assisted the harassment. Policemen have said: “We know that what we are doing is unfair and not lawful, but if we do not do it we risk losing our jobs because Dr Kunonga has the power to do so.”

This morning Dr Williams goes to Zambia to meet the newly elected President, Michael Sata, before returning to London on Thursday.

Dr Williams said of his visit: “I’ve been immensely moved by it. I’m just deeply glad that I came. It’s one of those ‘I’ve seen the Church and it works’ moments, you know?”

Stadium fans roar as Archbishop and his team stride out


The adoring crowds sent up an enormous cheer as he strode into the football stadium, his hands in the air, cameras flashing all around him. Cheerleaders twirled their batons and threw up their hats and the marching band blasted its way around the pitch.

But Wayne Rooney he is not — this was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. His team were the 84 Zambian priests ahead of him in the procession, his fans large ladies from the Mothers’ Union, and the marching band played What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

Coming to the end of his African tour, Dr Williams’s last Eucharist was held yesterday in the Arthur Davis Stadium, home to the Power Dynamos, who are top of the Super League in Zambia’s northern Copper Belt. Dr Williams preached to the stalls and the dugouts, where 500 people sat, about the Church’s — and his — African mission.

“We are sent into the world not just to speak words but to share the life of those around us — to share the sufferings and the struggles, the hopes and the joys of our neighbours,” he said. “The mission of the Church is one that takes risks for the sake of other people.”

Dr Williams’s meeting with President Mugabe in Harare was one such risk, but rather than criticism for giving Mr Mugabe a platform, Dr Williams won praise for challenging him on his persecution of the Church. Driven from churches, robbed, beaten up and teargassed, Zimbabwean Anglicans desperately need the Archbishop’s help.

“Sometimes it is not comfortable to be involved in the mission of the Church. Sometimes we would rather stay at home,” he told the crowd wistfully. He also appealed for help for those with HIV and Aids, saying: “We should not forget or forsake those that have the disease. We will be friends with them and this means the fight against death.”

But the two difficult legs of his mission completed — in Zimbabwe, and before that in Malawi, where the increasingly autocratic President Mutharika’s forces shot 20 protesters dead in July — the Archbishop can relax a bit in Zambia. On Tuesday he and President Sata had an affectionate and happy meeting. Relieved that their new President was elected in peaceful and democratic elections, Zambians are very hopeful about the future of their country. The Church does particularly good work there in healthcare and development, notably a very successful anti-malaria campaign.

“One of the great glories of Africa is that it has found a way to give women a voice,” the Archbishop said, speaking directly to his overwhelmingly female audience, who at this point violently flapped their paper flags bearing his photocopied face and ululated loudly.

Hearing the commotion in the stadium, some Power Dynamos fans showed up, worried that they might be missing a match. They stood on the sidelines, as the bread and wine was dispensed. The scoreboard read Power Dynamos — 8; Visiting Team — 0.

“God really has a sense of humour,” someone muttered.

Two of a series of articles about the former Archbishop of Canterbury’s mission to Africa

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