In July 2007 Bishop Pius Ncube’s world collapsed around him on the back of adultery allegations, after he was caught on camera allegedly bedding a then married Rosemary Sibanda (who is now late).
In the ensuing media frenzy, then Archbishop of Bulawayo, Ncube resigned, left the country for The Vatican “to grow spiritually”, and then slipped back into Zimbabwe to start life afresh at the Marist Brothers Seminary in Dete, Hwange.
In his first interview in almost nine years, Bishop Ncube, speaks to The Sunday Mail Extra Editor Garikai Mazara on the sex allegations, his spirituality, exorcism in the church and various other issues.
Q: It has been nine years since you resigned from leading the Bulawayo Diocese, what have you been up to?
A: There is a lot to God’s work. I have been visiting Christian communities, helping with spiritual matters and – where possible – offering them help that might be physical, psychological or otherwise. I am still involved in pastoral work and that has taken a lot of my time as well. Besides, we are working on the translation of the 700-page Catechism of the Catholic Church into iSiNdebele with other priests. This is because we want the Word of God to be accessible in daily languages.
The Catechism is a collection of the basic beliefs of the Catholic Church; that we believe in the Trinity, that is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It teaches a lot, like the need to embrace God’s kingdom and His Presence and that the church plays a role in this mediation, that there is need for unity of humanity and there is need for a personal union with God.
Q: But surely, that cannot be enough work for nine years, what else have you been doing?
A: Holding retreats, I think in the past five years we have been having them regularly. These are spiritual exercises where someone can spend up to six days in prayer. I have also been involved with the local communities, the rural communities, encouraging their faith and at times helping at St Luke’s Hospital in Lupane. The sick need prayer to be healed, so from time to time, we visit the sick to pray with them.
Q: Any miracle healing sessions?
A: Though the Catholic Church believes in miracles, we don’t chase them, we let miracles happen naturally. I have been told of many miracles that have happened in the church. For instance, we have a member from one of our parishes who has been surviving only on Holy Communion for the past six years, because whatever food she eats she vomits. So a priest visits her three times a day to offer communion, that is a miracle, isn’t it? I have heard of a woman who had a sore neck which healed on a Good Friday as she was holding her cross. The stories are plenty.
Q: And exorcism, the Catholic has some history of exorcism…
A: I have been in the church for 43 years and yes, I have seen exorcism being done. Every bishop has the power to exorcise, but it must be pointed out that the person being exorcised must be confident, must have faith.
Most of the exorcism here in Africa involves ancestral spirits, and not diabolic forces. Most of these exorcisms are not as dramatic; just spirits not wanting someone to attend church.
Q: You have been in the church for 43 years, that makes you how old?
A: I am 69, going on 70. I was born on December 31, 1946.
Q: Quite some years you have clocked, that means you must have been all over the country with the church…
A: It was at St Patrick’s, a Catholic School in Bulawayo, where I embraced Catholicism. And it was mainly because of the headmistress of the school that I fell in love with the church. She was a Dominican nun from Germany who was very thorough in her ways. She largely influenced my decision to join the Catholic Church for life.
After my Ordinary Levels, I attended Chishawasha Seminary where most Catholic priests are trained. I trained there for seven years, leaving in 1963. I then went to a number of postings in and around the country, first landing at St Joseph’s in Kezi, (then) Empandeni Mission in Plumtree.
At independence I went to a Rome college, the Lateran University, for a two-year Master’s in Theology; came back and taught for a year at Chishawasha. In 1984 I was asked by Bishop Henry Karlen to animate the Christian community, that is assisting shepherds and priests to get together. Then I was a pastoral vicar, that is an assistant to the bishop, based at Bishop’s House in Bulawayo.
In 1985 I went back to Plumtree, to Embakwe Mission, where for a year I was in charge of the mission and some outstations. The following four years, from 1986 to 1989, I was at St Patrick’s in Makokoba. Between 1990 and 1997 I was pastor at the Cathedral of St Mary’s in Bulawayo and at the end of 1997 I was ordained bishop, a position I held up to 2007.
Q: A remarkable journey, indeed. Any memories from all those years, any lasting memories?
A: I was at Empandeni Mission from 1975 till 1979 and this was the peak of the liberation struggle. I have never been a violent person, I have always hated violence, and this was a trying time for us in the clergy, especially trying to understand the guerilla fighters, most of whom were atheists. So it was really a challenge.
Then came the period between 1987 and 1997, the days of the Aids pandemic; that period had a profound effect on my soul. We would have three burials in day, and at times within a short time bury another member, or members, from the same family.
Conducting those funerals and then offering counseling thereafter was never easy. Death is something that has always been difficult to handle. And over all those the years I have presided over hundreds of marriages but I must mention that whilst it is easy to celebrate marriage, it is not easy to counsel and keep the same going. Those are some of the memories that I still hold dear.
Q: Let’s discuss the circumstances surrounding your resignation. What really happened?
A: I cannot say much at this time, because some of the stuff might affect some Catholics but the Government took it up and blew it out of proportion. Lots of statements, which were highly political, were made. So I shall let it lie.
Probably after some time, say two or three years from now, I might sit down and write my memoirs, my version of what happened. Not just now. If I speak now I might injure some people. It appears it was never clear what happened.
Q: At 70, age might not be on your side. We all know dying is God’s choice but, like you mentioned earlier, you are 70 and not getting any younger…
A: I am in good health, God has blessed me with good health. I have no sugar problems, no blood pressure problems, I don’t have sleepless nights and I have lots of time for prayer, so I still have plenty of time to tell my story. And I will tell it one day.
Q: You have been called an anti-President Mugabe clergyman, do you agree?
A: It is not about being anti-Mugabe or pro-Mugabe but it is about seeing to it that people’s expectations have been fulfilled. Zimbabwe is a rich country, we have all the minerals in the world, except maybe for oil, but to see our people suffering like they are, is wrong. President Mugabe is a fellow human being like me and we can expect him to make mistakes, just like any other human being.
Q: When, or how, did your differences with the State begin?
A: That was in 2000, I didn’t quite agree with the land invasions. Everyone knew that our economy is agro-based and that once we destroyed that backbone, the economy was on its knees. No-one listened and today we find ourselves where we are.
Q: Have you tried to engage the President and possibly hear his side of the story?
A: We visited the President in 2003, as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and we spoke openly and honestly with him. We had prepared a document, in which we listed all the problems that we felt needed to be addressed and he listened as we spoke.
Then he responded, explaining very nicely and at times diplomatically on each and every point that we had raised in our one-hour presentation.
Q: Were you happy with the responses that he gave, did he show any commitment to what he was saying?
A: We got the impression that he was trying to solve some of the issues that we raised, most of these issues were social issues. He received us very well. I remember by then one of the issues we raised was the deteriorating economy.
Q: So was it an affair gone wrong or you were being fixed for opposing the President?
A: I will not answer that at this juncture. At one point I will state things clearly, probably within a few years, but not now. A lot of untruths were told but God’s power is great.
Q: You sound very spiritual?
A: Everyday at 4am I rise for prayers, starting them at 4.30am till 7am. In the evening I also spent an hour in prayer, usually between 7pm and 8pm. So yes, I pray a lot.
Q: What do you pray for?
A: For Africa, for Zimbabwe. The other day there was news that about 6 000 people have been rescued at sea, whilst attempting to migrate to Europe. But this is rich Africa, what are we getting it wrong? So my prayers are for Africa, for Zimbabwe, for everyone, for humanity, that the world be a wonderful and peaceful place to live. There is too much disorder in the world.
Q: There are suggestions that you might be heading back to Bulawayo, is that true and if so in what capacity?
A: That is a decision made in Rome, I cannot say I am going back to Bulawayo but it is the Vatican that will decide where my next station in my pastoral work can be. It is not for me to say. I serve under the pope and any move has to come from him. I can be re-assigned as a priest in the diocese, I cannot do much running around, especially in the rough parts of the country.
Q: To those who might not be familiar with Catholic protocol, what are you called now? What is your official title?
A: I am Archbishop Emeritus. “Emeritus” is Latin for retired. The Sunday Mail