How secret camera in archbishop's 'love nest' silenced vocal Mugabe critic
Video recording of alleged adultery embarrasses nation's Catholic leader
Chris McGreal, Africa correspondent
Saturday July 21, 2007
The pictures are as grainy and blurry as you might expect from a tiny camera hidden in the ceiling of what Zimbabwe's government press is calling "the archbishop's love nest". But there is little doubt that the man perched on the edge of the bed is Pius Ncube, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo and furious opponent of Robert Mugabe. Behind the cleric, as he takes his shirt off, is a shape that a worker on Zimbabwe railways, Onesimus Sibanda, says is his wife, Rosemary, a secretary in the cathedral.
The video, showing a full frontal shot of a naked man who appears to be the archbishop as he climbs on to a woman whose breasts are also visible, is the basis of a lawsuit against the archbishop that is ostensibly about Mr Sibanda's honour but which the government has seized on - and almost certainly engineered - to silence one of Mr Mugabe's most persistent and effective critics.
Archbishop Ncube has denounced Zimbabwe's president as a murderer, mobilised the country's Catholic bishops to issue a pastoral letter likening the struggle against the present regime to the liberation war against white rule, and even called on Christians to pray for Mr Mugabe's death.
Now he has gone to ground while the Catholic hierarchy decides what to do as the fires are stoked by repeated broadcasts of the video on Zimbabwe television and a claim by the former secret policeman who planted the camera that Mrs Sibanda was only one of a string of women filmed in the bedroom.
The archbishop has done nothing to quell the furore. He refused to deny the accusations, saying instead that he is feeling "stressed" and praying a great deal.
The government and state-owned press maintain that the alleged affair came to light when Mr Sibanda hired a private investigator, Ernest Tekere, to check on his wife. Mr Tekere planted the camera in the ceiling of the archbishop's bedroom. "That man is a terrible womaniser," he told the state-run Harare Herald. "During the operation we saw several ladies coming to his room, women of all ages. There were old ladies, nuns and some young ones.
"He is not doing his job of sowing the holy seed but womanising. The number of women who visited his house during our investigations were too many."
But suspicions of a government hand at work were raised by the fact that Mr Sibanda has been separated from his wife for some time and lives with another woman, and because his pay is unlikely to have stretched to Mr Tekere's fees. It also emerged that the private detective is a former senior official in the Central Investigation Organisation in Bulawayo.
A fortnight ago, Mr Mugabe made a little-noticed remark about priests that is now being widely interpreted in Zimbabwe as evidence the government was behind the operation. "Some of them claim they swore to celibacy yet they sleep around with countless women," he said.
Mr Sibanda is suing the archbishop for £80,000. Court officials serving the legal papers on Archbishop Ncube were accompanied by television cameras. The state broadcaster said Mrs Sibanda admitted to the affair.
Government-run newspapers splashed the pictures on the front pages and gave detailed accounts of scenes from the video, including what the Herald described as the archbishop having a "nice time" with an unnamed married woman.
"She is believed to be a long-time girlfriend of the archbishop, as seen from the composure and confidence she exuded while in the archbishop's bedroom," the Herald wrote. "As the woman rests on the bed, Archbishop Ncube removes his collar and throws it into one of his drawers. He then proceeds to prepare the bed and places a wrapping towel across the bed."
According to the newspaper, the footage shows that the archbishop gave one sexual partner money and that she then stole jewellery from his room.
Although Archbishop Ncube's lawyers, friends and supporters quickly came out to deny the accusations, their confidence has been shaken by the cleric's refusal to do so himself.
The Solidarity Peace Trust, a church-backed group pressing for political change co-led by Archbishop Ncube, said it stood by him "regardless of the truth or falsity" of the allegations and accused the government of tactics reminiscent of the apartheid-era security police in South Africa.
Five years ago, the government engineered a sting against the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, in which he was filmed allegedly hiring a man who claimed to be a former Israeli intelligence operative to "eliminate" Mr Mugabe. Mr Tsvangirai was acquitted at a treason trial two years later.
But some of the cleric's supporters are aghast at what they describe as his recklessness when he should have assumed that he was a primary target for surveillance. "I think it's safe to say that Pius is in a situation partly of his own making," said one of the archbishop's political supporters. "Initially I thought it wasn't true. Now I have to say the weight of evidence is against him. I'm angry with him because we all know what kind of regime we are dealing with and he has jeopardised so much."
Mr Mugabe, who describes himself as an "ordinary Catholic" and several years ago drew criticism by fathering children with his secretary while still married, said he would call for prayers for the archbishop "so that he can repent and return to morality". "Since you are my archbishop, Pius, and you swore to celibacy, keep your vows," he said. "Snatching other people's wives is not fair play."
Vatican officials had no doubt the archbishop was the victim of a carefully prepared operation to discredit him, but there has been a growing feeling in Rome that he has gone too far in his fight with Mr Mugabe. This month Archbishop Ncube said the president "should be excommunicated at the very least".