Now, why have I told you this? Well, to put it very simply, it is because I remembered the incident when I heard that Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church, was paying a visit to Zimbabwe and would be meeting with the dreaded (or do I mean dreadful) Mr Mugabe.
I have always had great respect for Dr Williams, although I felt that he was a bit of a lightweight when it came to politics. This is why I was pleasantly surprised at the way he handled Mr Mugabe. He was blunt and to the point, pushing the tyrant to the limit by speaking out against the greed and violence of his government and its supporters.
The Archbishop was given a tumultuous welcome by Zimbabwe’s Anglicans, many of whom are worn down by years of persecution. Despite fears that the faithful would be too afraid to attend a Mass officiated by Dr Williams, 10,000 people crammed into the Harare City Sports Centre for the occasion.
There have also been fears for the Archbishop’s safety during the two-day pastoral visit, but he showed no hint of timidity as he told worshippers, “You have given so much to the Church worldwide…in this great and troubled country.Your life here is tortured by uncertainty and the constant risk of attack, yet it speaks to all of us.”
One of the issues discussed during the visit was the question of homosexuality. Even before the Archbishop’s sermon, George Charamba, Mr Mugabe’s spokesman, said that the 87-year-old President “would want this man of God to clarify why his Anglican Church thinks homosexuality is good for us”.
The Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa, comprising Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, is openly opposed to homosexuality. Nolbert Kunonga, former Bishop of Harare, is in the forefront of the harassment of Anglicans, based on Mr Mugabe’s loathing of gays. He has been promoting the use of placards saying, “Homosexuals must die.”
As Dr Williams confronted Mr Mugabe over the persecution of Anglicans, he shared tea, scones and jam with him. Sitting comfortably side by side in high-backed velvet armchairs, they drank tea from fine China cups, as they discussed politics and religion during the unprecedented meeting at the President’s official residence. The pair was then seen cordially shaking hands at the end of their discussion.
The Archbishop later described the meeting as “a real exchange of views” and said the Zimbabwean leader was shocked by the scale of persecution of Anglicans. He added, “It was a very candid meeting and disagreement was expressed clearly, but I think in a peaceable manner.
“We have asked him to use his powers as head of state to guarantee the security of those of his citizens who worship with the Anglican Church and put an end to unacceptable and illegal behaviour.”
Some 75 percent of Zimbabweans describe themselves as Christian, with Anglicans making up the largest single denomination. The mistreatment of Anglicans stem from a rupture in the Church following the 2008 sacking of Bishop Kunonga by the Central Africa Province, after he complained that the Church was too soft on homosexuals.
Anglicans obedient to his replacement, Bishop Chad Gandiya, say Mr Kunonga, a fervent Mugabe supporter, has since been allowed to wage a campaign of intimidation against them, with the protection of the police. They say his renegade clergy has appropriated Anglican schools, clinics and rectories, driving out and beating the legitimate congregations. They add that there have been other forms of abuse such as false imprisonment, tear-gassing of whole congregations, death threats by phone, in person and at gunpoint, and the arrest of priests and deacons without charge.
Mr Mugabe himself is a Catholic. As he walked Dr Williams to the door, he spoke of his Catholic upbringing and reminded the Archbishop that the Church of England was a breakaway group from the Vatican.
When he was asked later if the President seemed a Christian man, Dr Williams said, “Blessed are the peacemakers is not the obvious thing to say about him.”