Pioneering work from across the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) – from support for orphan-headed households in Malawi to peace-building in Zimbabwe – was highlighted last November as delegates to the first provincial Anglican Alliance consultation convened in Lusaka.

Delegates from Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe came together in a consultation led by the Archbishop of Central Africa, the Most Rev Albert Chama and spearheaded by provincial secretary Bishop William Muchombo and Ms Grace Phiri Mazala, national programmes director for the Zambia Anglican Council. They were joined by Ms Sally Keeble, Director of the Anglican Alliance, Ms Janette O’Neill, Chief Executive of USPG: Anglicans in World Mission, Rev Fedis Nyagah of Kenya and representatives of the Mothers’ Union head office in London.

Prompted by this event, RelZim decided to look at the state of the church-run social projects in Zimbabwe.

The Anglican church in Zimbabwe, which split when former Bishop of Harare Nolbert Kunonga was ex-communicated from  the institution, runs several social projects across the country. These include 10 primary schools, nine secondary schools, a nursery school and a skills training centre. There is also the Shirley Creeps Orphanage in Mashonaland East’s Goromonzi District, which has a total of 100 orphans, a tenth of whom are HIV positive. 

All these activities are imperiled with the future of the HIV positive minors in jeopardy. Food procurement has become a cumbersome task. The orphans now supplement their rations with ‘crumbs’ from a nearby school or walk close to five kilometres to Juru growth point, along the Harare-Nyamapanda highway, to beg for food.

Precious Shumba, CPCA’s spokesperson in Zimbabwe, told the Financial Gazette recently that the wrangle has disrupted all co-ordination within the church and between it and the Zimbabwe government, which oversees all social work in the country. “Social responsibility falls on the shoulders of central government and the church efforts only come in to ease the government’s burden since it does not have the capacity to care for all those in need. However, there is absence of a system that ensures the continuation of  humanitarian work should rifts (such as the present one) occur,” opines Shumba.

Government insists that it has no jurisdiction over religious wrangles. “Where the church is not meeting the standards, the ministry works with the church to see an improvement in the areas that need improvement. The Ministry of Labour and Social Services has no say on how churches are run but has an oversight role on the children that are being looked after by churches”, underscored the Minister of Labour and Social Services Paurina Mpariwa.

Asked if the government has the capacity to take-over the care of orphaned children, the minister said the task required a combined team effort. “Government has the capacity with the complementing assistance from partner organisations, and community level child protection committees, to assist and cover the care of orphaned vulnerable children, the elderly and people living with disabilities,” she said. 

The Anglican Church embarked on an ambitious medical facility at St Clare’s Mission in Murehwa during the last decade aimed at bringing health care services closer to surrounding communities.
An estimated US$27,000 was pumped into the project, which started in 2003, by the men’s guild, known as “Vabvuwi”. 

The medical facility has  capacity to cater for 15,000 people when completed. But the project has remained at roof-level since September 2007, while villagers under Chief Mangwende still trudge over 10 km to Murehwa growth point to get medical attention.

The bone of contention among members of the community who contributed to the erection of the facility through tithes, bricks, water and labour is very apparent: Mbuya Nyakova, 71, from the area says the men of cloth should lead by example and put their differences aside for the greater good. “When elephants fight it is the grass that suffers, in my old age I do not have the power to travel long distances anymore to seek medical attention for my diabetes,” she said.

Churches currently cater for nearly a third of registered private orphanages and to date 17 children’s homes are registered and run by churches countrywide out of the 75 registered private institutions in the country.

Government alone has eight children’s institutions offering care and protection. Despite having an estimated 1,5 million orphaned vulnerable children (OVC) in Zimbabwe, only 5, 000 are catered for under institutional care with the rest of the country’s OVC being taken care of by communities, by families, relatives and community structures.

Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe Africa spokesperson Camilious Machi-ngura said the immediate result of religious fragmentation has been a halt in social responsibility work. “Churches follow the teachings of the Holy Book, which advocates for humanitarian work according to the Gospels. In most cases, due to this religious thrust, they then tend to spearhead donor-funded relief programmes, which sadly are not immune to clergy in-fighting in comparison to state-provisioned social welfare,” said Machingura.

Church fights strain donor and corporate confidence in funding relief programmes. “Such programmes as education and health are long term and the impact of rifts affects the direction of the programme as there is re-alignment of staff in most cases which hinges continuity,” said Machingura.

Churches need to rethink and be ready to constantly negotiate their involvement with social projects for their ministry to be effective, and thus pronounce in a clearer way to their faithful.