msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 9/21/2011 4:00:57 PM ET 2011-09-21T20:00:57

Zimbabwe's top Anglican bishop says that an excommunicated church leader close to the country's president has taken over an orphanage housing 80 children.

Bishop Chad Gandiya, leader of the mainstream Anglican group, says the breakaway leader also has seized mission schools and priests' homes on the church premises near Murewa, some 50 miles east of the capital, Harare.

The incident comes amid a report of economic unrest aimed at white-controlled companies in urban centers and mines. The Christian Science Monitor reported that youths affiliated with President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU PF party have adopted tactics similar to those used during the seizure of white-owned farms in the past decade.

In the church dispute, Bishop Nolbert Kunonga was excommunicated four years ago after he was accused of inciting violence in sermons supporting Mugabe's party. Kunonga, though, still has the protection of police loyal to Mugabe and already has taken over the main Harare cathedral and church bank accounts.

Kunonga insists he split from the Anglican church because of its position on gay marriage. However, the reverend who was forced to leave the mission church near Murewa insists it was not marrying gay couples.

Leaders of the global Anglican Communion have condemned gay relationships as a violation of Scripture. However, the Anglican Communion is loosely organized without one authoritative leader such as a pope, so some individual provinces have decided on their own they should move toward accepting same-gender unions.

Sister Dorothy, one of the three nuns in charge of the care of orphans at the Shearly Cripps home near Murewa, said local officials and followers of Kunonga told the orphanage staff they were under orders to leave because they "support homosexuality."

"We refused to listen to Kunonga, but he says this place now belongs to him," said the elderly sister, who has served at the home for three decades.

Children going unfed?
Local officials in this longtime Mugabe party stronghold showed an unsigned court eviction order when the carers were bathing, feeding and giving medication to children last week, she said.

The nuns later moved to find shelter in a house several miles away. Visitors to the orphanage have since reported that children appeared not to have received regular meals and it was not clear whether qualified replacement staff were at the historic Shearly Cripps home.

The Rev. Richard Mombeshora, who was forced to leave the mission church, said pleas for police to intervene to stop the takeovers were ignored. Mombeshora said Kunonga's followers forced their way into the church rectory, and police were brought to oversee the evictions.

"These people confess openly they don't fear the law. So you just put your faith in God," he said, adding: "We don't marry homosexuals here. We don't approve of it at all."

Gandiya on Tuesday told the nuns and carers that an appeal against the evictions and other property seizures is scheduled before the Supreme Court, the nation's highest court, later this month.

"We haven't forgotten you or the children. Who is looking after them and giving them medicine?" Gandiya said.

Some of the children are AIDS orphans and need regular treatment and HIV/AIDS medication.

In 2007, Kunonga was excommunicated by the main Anglican Province of Central Africa and the world wide Anglican Church after he was accused of inciting violence in sermons supporting Mugabe's party.

The head of the church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is scheduled to visit Zimbabwe in October and wants to meet with Mugabe, 87, a Roman Catholic, to discuss an end to the disruptions.

Economic upheaval
The Christian Science Monitor report on the seizure of white-controlled companies said Zanu PF members were "at times forcing the closure of strategic economic units." Home Affairs co-minister Mrs. Theresa Makone told the NewsDay newspaper that she couldn't control the youths in Harare.

“In my constituency, there is chaos, and ZANU PF youths have finished building a base and there is nothing I can do to stop their invasions," Ms. Makone told NewsDay newspaper. "I and the deputy mayor are in the same area and we have a problem. When I wanted to develop, they denied me. There is nothing we can do...."

The Monitor said the youths have occupied buildings in the second-largest city, Bulawayo, owned by Zimbabweans of Asian origin for the past year. The newspaper said that prejudice against Africans of Asian origin is common in Africa.

Facebook case collapses
Meanwhile, defense attorneys say the case against a man accused of inciting a political uprising on Facebook has collapsed.

Attorney Lizwe Jamela said Wednesday that the police computer unit had failed to retrieve the Facebook post as evidence and so the court threw out the subversion charge.

A 39-year-old businessman had been accused of posting a message on Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Facebook wall urging him to lead North Africa-style protests in Zimbabwe.

The businessman spent a month in jail in May before being freed on bail.

Mugabe has been in power for more than 30 years, and has cracked down on public debate about the Arab Spring, which has toppled other longtime rulers on the continent.

tMsnbc.com staff contributed to this report from The Associated Press.

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