The case against Mugabeís robed nemesis


Itís a scandal to be sure, but it is not clear exactly of what kind. Perhaps only in the misery that is Zimbabwe could it even happen.

Zimbabwean Archbishop Pius Ncube

Last month, the Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, resigned after being served with a lawsuit alleging that he committed adultery. The husband of the alleged mistress is suing him for some 20-billion Zimbabwe dollars, which itself is an indication of how awful the economic situation has become under Robert Mugabe (on black market exchange rates, it’s about $150,000).

This week, the temporary administrator of the Bulawayo archdiocese appointed a new director of pastoral programs, a senior post. The new director? Archbishop Pius Ncube. Disgraced archbishops do not usually return to service after a few weeks. Again, only in the tragedy that is Zimbabwe.

Archbishop Ncube is the bravest man in Zimbabwe, and the most effective critic of the Mugabe regime. In a terror state in which the population is too afraid to speak out against one of the world’s most brutal and venal thugs, Ncube has led both the domestic and international opposition to Mugabe. When I interviewed him just over a year ago, he freely admitted that were it not for his international profile as a Catholic archbishop, Mugabe would have long ago had him killed. And given that there are precious few voices testifying to Mugabe’s strangulation of Zimbabwe, it is beyond debate that silencing or discrediting Ncube is a top government priority.

Hence the controversy over the adultery allegation, the subsequent resignation and now the subsequent appointment. Over the summer, allegations surfaced that Ncube had carried on an affair with a married woman. The state-controlled media played up the allegations in salacious style, and compromising photographs, supposedly taken by a secret camera in the archbishop’s residence, were given prominent play.

Given the difficulty of getting accurate news out of Zimbabwe, it is not clear what exactly his reaction has been. He stated that he is innocent and would fight the allegations in court, but that could be read two ways. Either he did not have the affair at all, or he did but is claiming innocence in regard to the various legal proceedings.

The government wants Ncube to go away, to be forgotten. His confreres in Zimbabwe are trying to prevent that — as they should. The world still needs his witness, compromised or not.

Last month, he asked to be relieved of his duties so that the Church would not be caught up in the “state-driven, vicious attacks” against him, and so that he could devote himself to his defence. At the same time, he vowed to continue his work for human rights and his work as a priest. Now he has been given an official appointment by his temporary successor.

If Ncube is indeed guilty of the sin, if not the crime, it will be a great sadness. It does not change the truth of all that he has said, but it does undermine his own authenticity as a witness to the gospel.

Yet many Zimbabweans are not prepared to believe the allegations, precisely because they are so convenient for the government. Many feel that the government may simply have fabricated the entire episode. Others are convinced that even if Ncube did have the affair, it was a “honey trap” in which Mugabe’s agents sent someone to seduce him.

The decision of the local Bulawayo clergy to return Ncube to another office so quickly clearly indicates two things. First, that they are not convinced of Ncube’s guilt. Second, that they want to be clear that however the legal proceedings are resolved, they do not want to lose Ncube’s voice.

There can be no excusing the adultery of an archbishop; it would be a betrayal of his sacred office. If true, it would be tragic, for Ncube would have given the Mugabe regime the club with which they are now beating him. Yet the greater monster in all this remains Mugabe, and until it is clear what exactly happened, Ncube deserves the benefit of the doubt, the presumption of innocence and the proper time and space to make his defence.

But whether Ncube is guilty of the sin, the crime or both, it should not distract from the cause for which he has put his life on the line — liberty and justice for the people of Zimbabwe. The government wants Ncube to go away, to be forgotten. His confreres in Zimbabwe are trying to prevent that — as they should. The world still needs his witness, compromised or not.


Father Raymond J. de Souza, "The case against Mugabe’s robed nemesis." National Post, (Canada) October 11, 2007.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.


Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2007 National Post

Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter



Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.