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Archbishop of Canterbury to visit Zimbabwe

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is set to visit Zimbabwe next month as part of a tour which will also include Malawi and Zambia.

He will be the first key British figure to visit Harare in ten years, since a visit made by Baroness Amos in 2001. However, a spokeswoman for the Archbishop stressed that Dr Williams was making a “pastoral visit” to Zimbabwe in order to “show solidarity” with Anglicans there. Dr Williams is head of the Anglican Communion worldwide, which has 77 million members.

In recent months, Anglican priests in Zimbabwe have been the target of beatings, arrests and evictions. Ahead of his visit, Dr Williams has therefore requested a meeting with President Robert Mugabe. In a letter sent to the President in January, Dr Williams wrote of his concern over the “unmerited, unjust and unlawful persecution of members of the Anglican church in Zimbabwe”.

This violence reflects a split in the Anglican community caused by the political divisions within Zimbabwe. Bishop Chad Gandiya is the recognised Bishop of the Anglican Communion in Zimbabwe and said to be a supporter of the Movement for Democratic Change, led by Morgan Tszvangirai. His rival is Nolbert Kunonga, an excommunicated bishop who has the support of the Zanu-PF party, headed by Robert Mugabe.

Mr Kunonga has taken control over the capital’s churches and is alleged to be evicting priests who follow Bishop Chad Gandiya. There are also reports of teachers being expelled from mission schools and in one case, of staff being evicted from a church-run children’s home in Chikwaka, Mashonaland East province. Bishop Gandiya told the media that the home cares for almost 100 children and orphans, some as young as 6 months, and he was worried about the welfare of the children. According to an article in the Voice of America, Bishop Kunonga says he is permitted to take Anglican properties in the country by the terms of a High Court ruling. The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe is currently appealing to the Supreme Court on this matter.

In response to the Archbishop’s trip, the UK’s Foreign Office issued a statement saying that Dr Williams was travelling as “head of the Anglican Church...not a representative of the government”. Officials added that since the situation for Anglicans in Zimbabwe appeared to be worsening, Dr William’s “desire to support them is understandable”. Lambeth Palace confirmed that as yet, they have not received confirmation whether President Mugabe will meet with Dr Williams.

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SOS Children in Zimbabwe

SOS Children has been working in Zimbabwe since 1983 and currently care for almost 500 children at our three SOS Children's Villages and a further 190 young people at our five SOS Youth Homes.  We also run five SOS Schools and seven Family Strengthening Programmes in Zimbabwe.