Patrick Chakaipa Zimbabwe's first black archbishop 100 Greatest Zimbabweans

Roman Catholics in Zimbabwe will remember Archbishop Patrick Chakaipa, who died at St Anne's Hospital in Harare on April 8 after a long battle with cancer, with a mixture of love and sorrow.

The first black Archbishop of Rhodesia, Chakaipa was a close friend of Robert Mugabe. This controversial relationship was a source of considerable embarrassment to the church both at home and abroad. The archbishop invited criticism when he refused to allow the Catholic Church's commissioners for justice and peace to publish a devastating report, which revealed the full horror of the North Korean trained Zimbabwe National Army's atrocities in Matabeleland between 1982 and 1987. The government now admits to 10,000 civilian deaths. Some Catholics say many more died, possibly five times that figure. The report was eventually released, but never with the blessing of the Catholic hierarchy, which, basically, did not want to embarrass or anger Mugabe. The archbishop was also roundly condemned for the fact that, years later in 1996, he lobbied the Pope so that his friend Mugabe could marry a State House security worker called Grace Marufu who was at the time of her notorious affair with the president married with children to a Zimbabwean Air Force officer.

Patrick Chakaipa's warm relationship with Robert Mugabe was ideal for the latter, but Catholics both in Zimbabwe and Britain say it has cost the Church dearly. Born in Mhondoro in Rhodesia in June 1932, he spent almost 38 years of his life as a priest and just over 30 of them as a bishop, later archbishop of a country once called Rhodesia but now generally referred to as ''Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe''. From peasant stock, Patrick Chakaipa was ordained as a priest in 1965. Seven years later he was appointed auxiliary bishop for the diocese of Salisbury, and in 1976 was enthroned as the first black Archbishop of Rhodesia following the resignation that year of Francis William Markall SJ. For historic reasons, Catholics have been the loudest and most influential voice of Christianity in Rhodesia/ Zimbabwe.

When Sir Alec Douglas Home and Rhodesian leader Ian Smith worked out a plan to restore legality to Rhodesia in 1971, Patrick Chakaipa was one of the many local dignitaries who said ''no'' because it gave too much power to a small group of wealthy Europeans who hoped to perpetuate racism in Africa. At synods and Christian gatherings, the voice of Patrick Chakaipa was loud and clear. ''The Church,'' he said in Rome in 1994, ''can only promote justice if it makes all efforts to avoid injustice within the Church itself.'' When he died on April 8, hundreds of thousands of Catholics walked slowly around his coffin, which was later taken to the citadel of Catholicism in Zimbabwe, the mission at Chishawasha. At the start of the twentieth century, many Catholic blacks regarded the Catholic Church as a lighthouse of hope.

Many of the country's future leaders - including the Jesuit-educated Robert Mugabe - sat still and silent as they took in the words of Christ, only to throw them out of windows at the nearest ruling party headquarters when they came to power. Those who know Zimbabwe well say that it is no coincidence that the strongest Easter Pastoral Letter from the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference since independence was issued to priests only a few days after the archbishop's death. In it, the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe accused Robert Mugabe of having ''failed to provide leadership that enables the creation of an environment that enhances truth, justice, love, and freedom''. With its release, President Mugabe has finally lost the vital support of the Zimbabwe Roman Catholic Church. The pastoral letter condemned what it called the ''frightening corruption, lawlessness, and abuse of power of the government''. It also expressed outrage at the regime's practice of demanding that people in famine relief queues produce a ruling-party card before they are allowed to receive food. ''People's lives are at stake and the nation cannot afford to entertain the politicisation of food while people are starving.''

Mugabe's wish underlines, if needs be, once again the closeness of the two men. If his wish becomes the Church's command it will embarrass Catholics who are now attempting to undo years of Church-State cosiness in order to identify fully with the spiritual and material needs of millions of starving people.

Archbishop Patrick Chakaipa; born June 25, 1932, died April 8, 2003.

Tribute by fellow Priest to Patrick Chakaipa

I remember in 1980 when I was much more enthusiastic about Zanu PF,

being disappointed that when the new Prime Minister asked to see the

archbishop, Chakaipa took a fortnight to reply. That disappointed some of us

then, but maybe he knew something we didn't know at that stage.

Later, he did seem to warm up to the party just as many of us were

cooling towards it, but, for example, his agreement to preside at the

wedding of Robert Mugabe and Grace Marufu did not prove he was a Zanu PF


Their behaviour before their marriage may have left something to be

desired, but I can understand, even if I disagreed at the time and still

disagree, with the archbishop's view that the man was a Catholic and his

asking for a church wedding showed that he wanted to put things right so a

good priest (and we all knew Chakaipa was that) could not refuse him the

blessing and help of the church.

It is simply untrue to say he was the strongest supporter of the

"Third Chimurenga" among the bishops. When it began, he was already a sick

man and, if we criticised him, it was for not speaking against the

violence - something he may have been incapable of by then. At least he did

not defend the way the land-grab was carried out. Some of his colleagues did

go as far as to approve Mugabe's theft of the 2002 presidential election by

attending and blessing his inauguration, but not Chakaipa.

There is another aspect to the "national hero" business that the

archbishop might have recognised and not approved.

Do you remember when that MP declared Mugabe the Son of God? I am sure

that Mugabe does not want to be God. He'd rather be Pope, because that

carries more obvious power. If we, or his own thugs, offend God, we have

rather a long time to wait before we face judgment for that, but the Pope

has power over his own followers here and now and a lot of people who are

not his followers admit he has tremendous influence over them.

That is the power Mugabe wants, not the power to send us to Hell when

we die. He would rather control us here and now.

And, when you think about it, declaring national heroes is one way

that he tries to claim the sort of power the Pope has. The nearest parallel

I can think of is the way the Pope declares saints in a canonisation

ceremony. This is a way of saying that the dead person led a life that shows

they can be safely venerated and imitated by the faithful, and isn't that

very similar to what is being said when someone is declared a national hero?

They are saying: "This man may have been a greedy, self-serving thug, but he

was a loyal member of the party, and we want you all to be like that, even

if it doesn't reward you so well. To prove your loyalty, you may venerate

him by naming streets after him."

That is a kind of power over our minds that many politicians would

love to exercise, and the gentleman in State House revels in it.

If the dead really did turn in their graves, there would be permanent

earth tremors at Heroes' Acre as men like Rekayi Tangwena, Herbert Chitepo

and Guy Clutton-Brock protested at the kind of company they are forced to

keep there. If anyone had the impertinence to bury Chakaipa there, he also

would turn in his grave. He was a faithful enough follower of the Pope to

recognise when power-hungry politicians were using a ritual that he believed

only the Pope could use, and using it to boost their own power.

Archbishop Chakaipa may have been quiet when people expected him to

speak out against the evils that have been unleashed on our land in recent

years, but what could he have done when he was dying of cancer? It doesn't

make him a lackey of the party or of the mad professor or of the man who

used to wear a grass hat.

He was also a very humble man, who would not be fooled by cheap

honours. National hero? He'd have wanted none of that

May he rest in peace.
Magari Mandebvu is a Catholic priest who writes on political and

social issues.