Mugabe offers Williams tea, but no sympathy
A dossier cataloging the abuses suffered by Anglicans in Zimbabwe was presented to the country’s president Robert Mugabe during a face-to-face meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury. At a meeting in the State House in Harare, the Dr Rowan Williams asked the controversial leader to use his powers to stop the abuses that mainstream Anglicans have endured in his country.
The Archbishop, the head of the worldwide Anglican Church, was joined by other Anglican leaders in appealing to Mugabe to put a stop to the victimisation. In response, Mugabe delivered a history lesson on Anglo-Zimbabwean relations, detailed his own religious upbringing and reminded Williams that the Church of England is “a breakaway group” from the Catholic church.
Despite persistent rumours over the 87-year-old president’s health, Williams commented: “He’s on top of things intellectually.” Williams arrived at the state house in Harare in a police convoy. He walked up a red carpet, passing two stuffed lions as he entered through giant wooden doors.
Williams and his delegation sat down for 90 minutes in what one witness described as “a grand room” with pale blue damask curtains and velvet armchairs. Tea was served on fine china and included scones and jam. The archbishop said later: “People say that sometimes you get a long lecture, nothing much else; others have said he’ll be very charming, and so we didn’t know what to anticipate. In fact it was a very serious conversation with real exchange.”
Williams was allowed to speak first, outlining the dossier which claims that, since 2007, Anglican congregations have suffered systematic harassment and persecution at the hands of the police, including false imprisonment, violence and denial of access to churches, schools, clinics and mission stations. Williams told a subsequent press conference: “We have asked him that he 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.
“We are proud of our church here and our people who have suffered so much but continue to serve with great enormous energy, with love and with hope. I think the scale of intimidation documented in the dossier was something with which he was not entirely familiar.” He added: “It was a very candid meeting; disagreement was expressed clearly but I think in a peaceable manner.”
Asked if Mugabe had been receptive, he replied: “No president is ever going to say, ‘I don’t care about people being beaten up’. But I think there’s a real concern that this is a running sore, that he and others in government would like to see it sorted. He was fairly clear that he and his people would want to talk to Kunonga.” He said Kunonga’s derision of the central church as promoting homosexuality was “throwing sand in the air” and aimed at “distracting people from real issues”.