Robert Mugabe's opponent Morgan Tsvangirai in Friday's presidential runoff has withdrawn because he fears that those who vote for him will be killed by the army. Mugabe's army and supporters systematically assassinate grassroots political opponents. And Mugabe has targeted the Anglican Church for extinction, using virulent homophobia as the excuse to stamp out a Church that stands with the people of Zimbabwe.
The Sydney Morning Herald summarizes:
THEY call it the Cathedral by the River Jordan: Zimbabwean Anglicans, beaten, arrested and thrown out of their cathedral in central Harare, are meeting at the municipal swimming pool.
Robert Mugabe is a man of great obsessions: the British, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, holding power at all costs and homosexuality are high on his list. To him, the Anglican church of Harare is a church of gays and lesbians that should not be allowed to exist.
As the persecuted faithful gathered under an awning beside the empty pool last weekend, the Right Reverend Brian Castle, the Bishop of Tonbridge, visiting from England, delivered a message of support from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. In times of persecution, the church leans on voices of support from around the world, says Harare's besieged Anglican bishop, Sebastian Bakare. "The Archbishop of Canterbury calls and he writes. The Episcopal church of America has been very supportive. [But] we have heard nothing from the church in Australia."
Last month, the bishop appealed to the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, for action to protect Christians in Zimbabwe. Since the March 29 election, Mr Mugabe has locked Anglicans out of their churches, sent in riot police to break up church gatherings and beaten and detained parishioners. Nolbert Kunonga, Harare's former bishop and an ardent Mugabe supporter, withdrew from the province last month, saying he could not exist with all the gays and lesbians.
The new bishop, Mr Bakare, says Mr Kunonga was dismissed on the grounds of schism, and turned to Mr Mugabe with his claims of a gay church. Mr Bakare believes the greater reason for Mr Mugabe's wrath comes from Mr Kunonga's second allegation, that the church supports the MDC.
"Kunonga had convinced ZANU-PF he could deliver the whole diocese for ZANU. ZANU will accept anyone who will deliver that kind of support. Come the election, Harare went MDC, not because of the Anglicans but because many people voted against ZANU. The Anglican church became a scapegoat to be locked out of our own churches," Mr Bakare told the Herald in an interview at his temporary home. He is not allowed to use the bishop's official residence.
"Our people were beaten up, put in police cells for the night, police were saying you are not supposed to be entering these buildings," he said.
The Government has also frozen the assets of the church.
The bishop said Mr Mugabe's obsession with Britain has hurt the church. "The Anglican Church has always been accused of being a colonial church, the Church of England, which is stupid," he said. "Kunonga says this is a colonial church which wants to bring back the British to run it. It has been under black leadership since the 1980s."
Read the Sydney Morning Herald: Anglicans feel the brunt of Mugabe's many hatreds.