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What happened to Bishop Trevor Manhanga?
When I went to Mutare in 1997 to pursue my studies at Africa University, I needed a spiritual home in the eastern border city. A pastor in Harare, the Late Pastor Nyamanhindi referred me to Victory Tabernacle, near Mutare Girl’s High. Bishop Manhanga was not only the Pastor of Victory Tabernacle but was also President of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Zimbabwe (PAOZ). What I liked most about Bishop Manhanga was his liberation theology. He blended spiritual matters with contemporary socio-political issues. He was fearless. He was also President of Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe a platform he ably used to minister to the nation through the double-edged sword – The Bible. He became my instant hero.
In one incident, as President of EFZ he mobilized money to help families of victims of Nyanga Bus Disaster. The event took place at Meikles Park and I was there. So powerful and influential was Bishop Manhanga to an extend even the then Minister of Land and Agriculture Kumbirai Kangai and other senior government officials in Manicaland attended the event. Young boys and girls from Mutare churches sang hymns whilst reps of the bereaved families received donations from EFZ. Not to be outdone, and typical of a politician, Kangai joked and said ‘ndafara kuona vanasikana vakachena kudai, ndozvinodiwa nemusangano we ZANU PF izvozvo, to which Bishop Manhanga retorted ‘thank you Reverend Kangai’, much to the delight of the audience. Bishop Manhanga bemoaned the lack of disaster preparedness on the part of government. I remember he said the Church has been a sleeping giant that had awoken from its slumber. To be frank, each time he addressed people he gave me hope. I was proud to be associated with him.
In February 2003 Bishop Manhanga and a number of pro-democracy activists, among them Brian Kagoro, the late John Makumbe, activist John Stewart and a US embassy official were arrested as they gathered for a conference to discuss the role of the church in solving the national crisis at Northside Community Church in Harare. The theme of the conference was: Is the Church resolving or deepening the Crisis. The Bishop would speak at several civil society and opposition forums – becoming the most vocal clergy demanding a restoration of the rule of law.
Then something very serious happened
In 2007, my brother Michael, now late, was visiting me in Mutare as he often did. He had relocated to our Kadzere Village in Mutasa where he became one of the most prominent MDC activist in Ward 15. Hearing that Morgan Tsvangirai was going to address a rally at Chisamba Grounds in Sakubva, Mike decided to attend. When he came back he was full of praise for Bishop Manhanga. He had seen him for the first time. Mike said this man called Manhanga is something else. Manhanga had made a prayer for the nation before Tsvangirai gave his speech. According to Mike the prayer was so powerful to an extend that even those walking the streets stopped in reverence. Mike, who was not a religious fanatic like me, went on to say he ‘felt the presence of God’ as Manhanga was praying. He said when Manhanga finished his prayer there was a thundering response from the 15000 – 20 000 strong crowd shouting Ameeeen!
The following week Bishop Manhanga was to go to Harare to meet President Mugabe. This is the week we lost a courageous human rights defender. Until now I don’t know what happened to Bishop Manhanga between his appearance at the MDCT rally at Chisamba Grounds and his meeting with President Mugabe the following weekend. The man started praising President Mugabe and ZANU PF whilst casting aspersions on the opposition establishment and civil society. (I am not against criticizing the opposition, I also do the same) but criticizing the opposition and civil society whilst praising ZANU PF has a whole different meaning.
A column was given to Bishop Manhanga in the Sunday Mail where he began to churn out government propaganda. In 2014 Bishop Manhanga was appointed to the Board of Zimpapers. The Bishop has withdrawn from public spaces where he used to interact with the people.
But why am I writing this. Its because a few days ago I woke up to the news that Bishop Manhanga has sent people to evict one of the few remaining white farmers in Rusape, Mr Smart and his family. Today I read from Zexie Mashonga that ‘the whole Smart family, grand parents, Son, Daughter, Daughter in law and their two boys spent Friday hiding in the gomos away from large numbers of armed riot police that had been sent by Bishop Trevor Manhanga, who is the person that wants to take the farm.’
Pictures taken at the farm show household furniture strewn allover along the road. Workers of Mr Smart tried to defend their employer, knowing they will lose both shelter and livelihoods but their cries for help fell on deaf ears. As has always happened, when government takes over farms there is no consideration for the farm workers.
But this suffering being caused by Bishop Trevor Manhanga is uncharacteristic of the Bishop that I know. I am more than convinced that 2 voices are speaking to him but he is ignoring the correct voice, usually a still, small voice’. Persecution of white farmers is simply wrong and there is no amount of political correctness that can justify these heinous crimes. Zimbabwe was built by both black and white people and the country is crying for leadership that can address historical imbalances in a civilized manner. Let me leave it there for today.
But wherever you are, lets pray for Bishop Trevor Manhanga. He sacrificed a lot for the cause of democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe and it will be very sad for the last chapter of his life to be associated with oppression and human rights violations. We want our Bishop back in the name of Jesus Christ.