Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Picture: Reuters/ Neil Hall/ Files

Harare -

After meeting President Robert Mugabe in Harare on Sunday, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said Zimbabwe’s relationship with the church had improved.

When his predecessor, Rowan Williams visited five years ago, he was not able to attend church in the Anglican Cathedral as it had been seized by a breakaway faction in 2007, led by Nolbert Kunonga, an excommunicated former bishop who was a strong supporter of the Zanu-PF.

Anglican communities around the world were mystified and horrified that Kunonga had taken over not only the Cathedral, but that Anglican members were beaten up, church property sold, and long established Anglican schools were taken over by this breakaway group led by Kunonga, the former bishop of Harare.

He was excommunicated in 2008 but remained in possession of much Anglican property for several years.

Pro Zanu-PF police protected Kunonga’s occupation of the church and allowed him to dispose of church property worth millions of rand.

Eventually he was forced to leave by pressure from the courts and after a visit by Williams, who was greeted like a pop star during his visit in 2011, but was unable to lead a service in the cathedral.

But he met Mugabe and the two men spoke about the extraordinary Anglican situation in Zimbabwe.

The following year the High Court ordered Kunonga to leave the cathedral and hand back property, including schools, offices and church halls.

But the courts recognised that irreplaceable assets had disappeared during Kunonga’s occupation of church property, and he was ordered to pay back millions of rand for property he had disposed of .

The occupation of the Cathedral and takeover of most Anglican churches in Zimbabwe came at a time when relations between the UK and Mugabe and the Zanu-PF administration were poor after several violent elections and persecution of opposition supporters.

Independent Foreign Service