The illegal seizure by excommunicated Bishop Nolbert Kunonga of the Arthur Shearly Cripps Shrine in Chivhu, Zimbabwe
In 2004 I published The Dust Diaries, an account of my journey tracing the life and legacy of my great, great uncle, the maverick missionary and activist for African rights Arthur Shearly Cripps. My journey in Cripps’ footsteps finished at his graveside in the knave of a ruined church deep in the Zimbabwean veldt. The church was built by Cripps in the style of Great Zimbabwe. It was midnight and hundreds of people were packed between its walls, dancing and singing around my uncle’s grave. Fires picked out the shape of the kopje that rose above us, testament to the 700 Zimbabweans who had, despite fuel shortages and other difficulties, made the journey to this isolated place to celebrate Arthur’s life and remember his fifty years living and working with the Shona people around Chivhu. The celebrations lasted for three days. Remarkably ecumenical in nature, both Anglican service and traditional Shona pungwe, they constituted the annual ‘Shearly Cripps Festival’, an event attended by Zimbabwean Anglicans for over fifty years.
This year the Shearly Cripps festival has not been allowed to happen. On August 2nd it was reported that excommunicated Anglican Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, an outspoken supporter of President Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF, claimed to have ‘taken over’ the Shearly Cripps Shrine, along with all other church properties in the Masvingo Province. Sadly the local police have enforced Kunonga’s claims, despite repeated court orders ruling access to Anglican properties should be open to all. This claim follows over ten years of similar actions by Kunonga, including inciting violence against those attending services under the direction of the legitimate Archbishop of Harare. As with his actions over the Shearly Cripps Shrine the police, ignoring court orders, have often acted in collusion with Kunonga, even tear-gassing church-goers.
As a descendent of Arthur Shearly Cripps I strongly condemn Kunonga’s illegal seizure of the Shearly Cripps Shrine and all other Anglican Church properties in Masvingo Provience and call upon Kunonga to revoke his false claims. Given the nature of Cripps’ activist work – fighting for indigenous land rights, defending local people against colonial injustice, building the country’s first VD clinic for indigenous Zimbabweans – Kunonga’s actions in denying access to his shrine and inciting violence against the Anglican community are particularly sickening and perverse. Extraordinary though the actions of Kunonga and the police may seem they are also, unfortunately, all too indicative of the cronyism, corruption and injustice that have marred the ZANU PF regime in Zimbabwe for over the last ten years.
Cripps strived all his life for equality and justice. When he died he left all his land to the local people who had lived and farmed on that land for many years. In the light of his work and his legacy it is particularly saddening that the kind of actions Cripps fought against during his time in colonial Southern Rhodesia should be echoed now by Kunonga in a post-colonial Zimbabwe.
Notes for Editors
- Bishop Kunonga was excommunicated from the Anglican Church in Africa after his violent actions, including encouraging physical attacks on people attending Sunday services under the direction of the legitimate Archbishop of Harare.
- It was recently reported that Kunonga broke into the church in Chivhu with the connivance of the police, who refuse to take any complaint from the Anglican church about these events. Government controlled Zimbabwean television has endorsed Kunonga’s activities, and have publicized his takeover as a matter of fact.
- Arthur Shearly Cripps was a poet, activist and independent missionary to Zimbabwe who lived in Zimbabwe from 1901 until his death in 1952. Throughout his time in the country he fought tirelessly for African rights, and specifically African land rights, publishing a book entitled An Africa for Africans in 1927.
- Both Muriel Spark and Doris Lessing have cited Cripps as an influential figure in the development of liberal social activism in Southern Rhodesia/Zimbabwe
- Jodi Bieber, winner of the premier World Press Photo of the Year Award 2011, attended the Shearly Cripps festival with Owen Sheers in 2000. To contact Jodi about these images please visit this link.
- Owen Sheers is a poet and author. He recently wrote the script for National Theatre of Wales and Michael Sheen’s The Passion. The Dust Diaries won the Welsh Book of the Year 2005 and is currently being translated into Shona. Owen is available for interview.