Robert Mugabe offers Rowan Williams tea but little sympathy


JF-Expert Member
Sep 24, 2010
[h=1]Robert Mugabe offers Rowan Williams tea but little sympathy
[/h] Archbishop of Canterbury visits Zimbabwe's president with a message about the plight of the country's Anglicans

  • David Smith in Harare
  • The Guardian, Tuesday 11 October 2011 Article history
    Rowan Williams, left, meets with Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, in Harare. Photograph: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

    It may have been the tea, scones and jam that put him at ease as the Archbishop of Canterbury came face to face with Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe.
    Although the trappings at the presidential state house were akin to an English vicarage, Dr Rowan Williams had come with a pointed message about the plight of Zimbabwe's Anglicans.
    Flanked by regional church leaders, he presented Mugabe with a dossier of alleged abuses perpetrated against worshippers over the past four years.
    In response, the president 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."
    The meeting was the culmination of the archbishop's two-day visit to Zimbabwe that saw him condemn lawlessness and violence in a sermon cheered by thousands on Sunday. He has pledged support to Anglicans who have been arrested, beaten and locked out of churches by supporters of Nolbert Kunonga, a renegade bishop loyal to Mugabe.
    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".
    "In the US and in Canada there is a more relaxed attitude to these questions but these are provinces which do not represent the general mind of the communion on this matter.
    The Anglican communion worldwide holds the position that whatever our views on the morality of homosexual behaviour, we regard homosexual persons simply as human beings, as deserving of dignity and respect."Like others who have met Mugabe before him, Williams did not escape a lecture, which was critical of the Labour government elected in 1997 and what Mugabe claims are devastating EU sanctions. "We had the history of Anglo-Zimbabwean relations from 1 May 1997 onwards in some detail. So I don't know. I think if there's a problem that is soluble without loss of political face maybe he feels he can do something about this.
    "I said at the end that what we'd all like to see is Zimbabwe fulfilling the potential that it showed in the early years of independence. He's very clear that he blames everybody else for what's gone wrong since."
    Religion was also discussed. Williams recalled: "He talked about his Catholic upbringing and I think continuing occasional Catholic practise, and reminded us that the Church of England is a breakaway group from the Roman Catholic church."
    Asked if Mugabe struck him as a Christian man, the archbishop observed: "I could answer it on the basis of what I've read about him, or I could answer it on the basis of this afternoon, and this afternoon I've not much to go on except what he said. On the basis of what I've read about him, 'Blessed are the peacemakers' is the obvious thing to say about him."The Zimbabwe trip has proved controversial in some quarters with objections that it could give Mugabe political capital. However Williams, who moves on to Zambia on Tuesday , has no regrets.
    "I've been immensely moved by it," he said. "I'm just deeply glad that I came because seeing these immense congregations in the most difficult situations, seeing what they achieve, it's just fantastic. It's one of those 'I've seen the church and it works' moments.
    "This morning we spent the whole morning in the Manicaland diocese visiting a number of congregations that have been excluded from their church buildings. They gathered at the roadside to meet us, they gathered in extremely smelly disused cinemas to meet us and in the middle of a field. They're there, they're growing numerically. In terms of numbers there's no comparison between the Kunonga faction and the church. It's been hugely moving and I'm very glad I came."


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