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Central Africa: Bishop Siyachitema Steps Down as President of Ecumenical Council

Posted on: July 26, 1996 2:52 PM
Related Categories: Central Africa

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches [ZCC] has replaced its president, Anglican Bishop Jonathan Siyachitema, of Harare.

Bishop Siyachitema has recently caused controversy in Zimbabwe by publicly criticising homosexuals, but this was not, a ZCC official said, the reason for his replacement.

ZCC vice-president, Enos Chomutiri, moderator of the Reformed Church in Zimbabwe, was elected on 3 July as the new head, according to Densan Matinyani, administrative assistant to the ZCC general secretary.

Speaking to ENI, Mr Matinyani denied that Bishop Siyachitema had been replaced because of his close support for President Robert Mugabe's strong opposition to homosexuality.

"This [the homosexuality debate] has nothing to do with his presidency of the ZCC," Mr Matinyani said. "The bishop was president for two four-year terms, so the council felt a change was needed."

Bishop Siyachitema recently repeated remarks in support of President Mugabe, whose sharp criticisms of homosexuals and lesbians last year were followed by protests in many countries.

President Mugabe was reported as saying to journalists: "We do not believe they [homosexuals] have any rights at all. They can demonstrate, but if they come here, we will throw them in jail."

Many Church leaders in the country have supported President Mugabe's stand. The ZCC, which has 20 Protestant Churches as members, said in a statement last year that homosexuality was "totally new and out of step with the Zimbabwean tradition and culture".

Some of Zimbabwe's Church leaders - while condemning homosexuality as a sin -have described President Mugabe's "witch-hunt" as "regrettable".

Bishop Siyachitema was quoted in a Harare newspaper last month expressing gratitude for the government's strong stand against homosexuality. The stand, he said, was in line with the principles of the Church. The bishop also told the newspaper that there was no way of preventing homosexuals from attending the next World Council of Churches' assembly, which will be held in Harare in 1998. (The ZCC is playing a major role in helping to arrange the assembly.)

"Homosexuality is a sin, and there is no way we can compromise on that ... [but] when they arrive at the airport there is no way their passports will indicate that they are homosexual," Bishop Siyachitema said.