Botswana's banned priests - another version

The flag of Botswana

From Religious Intelligence

This is another account of the Court hearing here (see also Anglican Information's comment here). This has some further detail or, perhaps, a different perspective.

The article was mistakenly entitled 'Burundi bishop in court rebuff' and illustrated by the flag of Burundi.

Clergy are church employees and are subject to the protection of state
labour and contract laws, a high court judge in Botswana has ruled. In a case
brought by seven suspended priests, Judge Key Dingake held that the Diocese of
Botswana must comply with its internal constitution as well as state law in
clergy disciplinary proceedings and ordered Bishop Trevor Mwamba to restore them
to office.

Last year, Bishop Mwamba suspended the seven priests, stopping their
pay and ordering them to vacate their rectories, after they turned to former
Harare bishop Dr Nolbert Kunonga for aid.

The seven, ethnic Batswanas — the dominant tribal group in Botswana — had charged Bishop Mwamba, a native of Zambia, with favoring foreigners in church patronage appointments. On Aug 25, 2007 six of the seven priests, wrote to the Primate of Central Africa, Archbishop Bernard Malango, stating they had no confidence in Bishop Mwamba’s leadership.

They charged Bishop Mwamba with being profligate with church funds, and
for having brought “shame” onto the diocese by appearing in a BBC film
adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith’s 1998 best-seller, “The No 1 Ladies
Detective Agency,” which was filmed in Botswana. They also charged their bishop
with backing the line on “homosexuality as propounded by the American

Dr Kunonga came to the aide of the seven priests at the 2007 provincial
synod, denigrating Bishop Mwamba in a speech to the gather, while his surrogates
in Harare attacked the bishop through the state-controlled press.

However, when the Province removed Bishop Kunonga from office, Bishop
Mwamba revoked the licences of the seven rebel priests prompting the

In testimony before the High Court in Gabarone in February, Bishop
Mwamba stated diocesan canons granted him the authority to “grant, withhold,
revoke or renew” a priest’s license “as he may see fit.” The seven had been
engaged in “factionalism in association with a certain Dr Kunonga, who is a
schismatic and not recognized in the Province and the Anglican Communion
Worldwide,” he said.

However in his ruling, Judge Dingake held that the diocese had not
complied with the government’s laws regulating charitable organizations nor its
own constitution in suspending the seven priests. The judge further held that
the bishop should have granted a hearing to the seven priests to respond to the
charges levelled by Bishop Mwamba.

Judge Dingake rejected the argument proffered by the diocese’s lawyer
that “because the church is a voluntary association, the principles of natural
justice do not apply to it.” Voluntary associations were obligated to treat
their members fairly by conforming to their constitutions.

The judge also rejected Bishop Mwamba’s third defence, saying that priests were church employees, not independent contractors employed at will.

"The decision by the bishop to withdraw and revoke applicants' licences
to practice as priests of the Anglican Church is hereby set aside as being
contrary to the Acts of Diocese of Botswana and or the Constitution and Canons
of the Anglican Church," Judge Dingake said.


What seems clear is that, on the one hand, the seven disaffected priests, affliated themselves with ex-Bishop Kunonga as a source of authority in opposition to their Diocesan. On the other hand Bishop Mwamba appears to have acted arbitrarily and to have sought to evade both the written law (though there seems to be no clarity as to why amendments to the canons were not properly registered) and also the principles of natural justice.

Bishop Mwamba is legally qualified. The arbitrary exercise of power, irrespective of the reason, is always wounding of the body of Christ.

1 comment:

  1. Paul Bagshaw is right, inasmuch as Bishop Mwamba should have been much more careful about getting legal procedures correct. Now the last state is worse than the first and he'll have difficulty in shifting the Kunonga presence out of Botswana.

    Of course, the original 'illegal' procedure in Lake Malawi diocese, on the part of the Central African Provincial Bishops (including Kunonga but objected to at the time by Mwamba) in declaring the Bishop-elect, British priest Nicholas Henderson, to be of 'unsound faith' in an uncanonical way has also precipitated three years of unrest and conflict. This case is yet to be completed. It may take a long time, there was a diocese vacant as a result of dispute in Uganda only recently filled after six years!

    Ironically, back in Malawi Trevor Mwamba in following the correct synodical procedures when he was briefly Dean of the Province (before being sacked in an irregular fashion by former Archbishop Bernard Malango) had almost resolved the problem.

    The moral of the story is 'always do things the proper legal way otherwise you'll get the result you don't want!'

    Unfortunately, in the Central African Province there is a strong tendency for Bishops to try and 'force' their wishes. Whilst, until fairly recently, this worked it doesn't any longer as Africans now have much easier access to modern communications and will not tolerate what they righty perceive as political manipulation.

    I hope and pray that Trevor Mwamba can now find another legal way to shake off the insidious Kunonga influence, which like Robert Mugabe's regime has caused so much damage and real suffering in Central Africa.