The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is meeting with Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, as part of his nine-day tour of African states, according to Lambeth Palace.
The meeting is somewhat surprising given that Williams has already criticized the Harare government’s mindless and Godless assaults during a Eucharist sermon delivered on Sunday. He also attacked the state of “lawlessness” that pervades the country.
The last official visit by a British representative to Zimbabwe was by Baroness Valerie Amos in 2001.
The church in Zimbabwe is in severe disarray.
According to reports, Nolbert Kunonga, a bishop who supports Mugabe, has been accused of promoting violence against Anglicans who don't support the president and himself.
Kunonga was the bishop of Harare until he was removed by Williams. Anglicans in Zimbabwe accused Mugabe of supporting Kunonga’s assaults against them. Kunonga’s supporters have reportedly beaten Anglicans and fired teargas at them.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Mugabe stated that the president seeks to discuss with Williams the sanctions placed on his country by western nations as well as the Church of England’s attitude toward homosexuality.
However, it isn't entirely clear what Williams and Mugabe will actually discuss.
Robert Pigott, BBC’s religious affairs correspondent, wrote of the impending conference: “in publicly seeking a meeting with Robert Mugabe, Rowan Williams is taking something of a risk. The Zimbabwean president, who routinely blames his country's history as a British colony for its problems, has no reason to favor the Archbishop of Canterbury. Williams has questioned Mugabe's political legitimacy, and written an open letter holding him responsible for the persecution of Anglicans.”
Pigott added: The archbishop has been warned that Mugabe might simply use a meeting as a way of boosting his standing, making political capital without making significant concessions. Williams might feel that being received by the president would further boost the status of his oppressed followers in Zimbabwe as authentic Anglicans. But the archbishop is taking no chances. If there's a meeting, he intends to hold a news conference afterward, to put his own interpretation on the event.”
The Anglican Church has been torn apart by infighting – Kunonga supports Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party while most other Church members reportedly support Morgan Tsvangirai's opposition Movement for Democratic Change .
Kunonga has reportedly evicted many church members who oppose Mugabe.
The most prominent opposition supporter in the church is Bishop Chad Gandiya - who is still recognized as the Bishop of the Anglican Communion in Zimbabwe .
Gandiya told western media: Everyone is turning a blind eye to the assault on our Church. This is affecting the people in our community. Nobody is raising a finger, what's exactly is happening?… It’s depressing, this is persecution of the Church. It's also in many ways embarrassing. We have the laws of the country being flouted left, right and centre. He [Dr Williams] will certainly find the Church in chaos.
The UK Foreign Office emphasized that Williams does not represent the British government.
The archbishop's visit is in a pastoral capacity as the head of the Anglican Church - he is not a representative of the government,” the Foreign said in a statement.
The situation of Anglicans in Zimbabwe has worsened in recent months and as head of the church, his desire to support them is understandable.
It is estimated that up to 70 percent opf Zimbabwe's population is Christian, belonging to either the Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Methodist Churches.
Mugabe, a practicing Catholic, has ruled Zimbabwe for over three decades.