Pilgrims attending the Bernard Mizeki festival at the Marondera fair grounds recently (Photo by Geoconger.wordpress.com)

The former Anglican bishop of Harare Nolbert Kunonga has once again blocked Anglican pilgrims from worshiping at the shrine of Bernard Mizeki.

With backing from the police, Dr. Nolbert Kunonga last month refused to allow members of the Church of the Province of Central Africa to worship at the shrine located 11 kilometers from Marondera. An estimated 30,000 Anglicans from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana gathered instead for the 22-24 June festival at the Marondera show grounds under the leadership of Archbishop Albert Chama.

One of the Central Africa church’s first native catechists, Bernard Mizeki was martyred on 18 June 1896 by Mangwende villagers in Murehwa (ca 100 km north-east of Harare) who felt threatened by his Christian witness.

According to local press accounts of the proceeding, Archbishop Chama, Bishop Chad Gandiya of Harare and other Anglican bishops urged the pilgrims to pray for the peace and integrity of Zimbabwe. “We pray for the country’s leadership led by President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. We pray for a good government that would strive to eradicate poverty and other forms of suffering. We also pray for those who continue to be abused and those who have lost their lives in the course of their religious practice, like Bernard Mizeki,” press reports from the meeting said.

On 16 June, Dr. Kunonga led members of his breakaway Anglican Church of Zimbabwe in worship at the shrine.  According to the Harare Herald, Dr. Kunonga urged his supporters to back the ruling Zanu-PF party of President Mugabe policies of evicting white farmers from the country. “The land reform and the indigenisation programmes are not election gimmicks but matters of life, which seek to liberate the previously downtrodden Africans … Just look at what is happening in South Africa at the moment. Youths have realised they are heirs to the land and will not accept piece-meal deals” to redistribute the country’s land” he said according to the Herald, which reported 20,000 people in attendance.

However, on 22 June 2012 the opposition Movement for Democratic Change ridiculed Dr. Kunonga’s attendance claims. “Kunonga was speaking to a few parishioners and hundreds of school children from Anglican schools who were forced to attend this year’s Bernard Mizeki commemorations in Marondera,” the MDC’s The Real Change Times said.

“Weeks before the event, Kunonga wrote to all heads of Anglican boarding schools instructing them to send schoolchildren to the event or risk unspecified action,” the newsletter said.