A newspaper gets burned in reporting on Anglican Africa

The Christian Science Monitor has been tripped up by the African press and the internet, reporting as breaking news an item almost two years old.

The gist of the story entitled “Churches feel vulnerable after Mugabe reelected in Zimbabwe” printed on 10 August 2013 is correct — church leaders are worried what Robert Mugabe will do following his reelection as president — but the background information used to pad out the article is incorrect.

I sympathize with the reporter on this story. This CSM story showcases the perils of re-write journalism. I use the internet for researching my stories also when I am not familiar with a topic. And I have been burned by Wikipedia and African newspapers too. Over the years I have covered religion in Africa I have learned how to smell a bad story — my “spidey sense” goes off when something is not quite right. And it tingled, jingled and jangled with this piece.

The article — written from Boston — begins:

The atmosphere in Zimbabwe after the reelection of strongman Robert Mugabe is not one of great celebration, but of tension. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the main challenger, says he will not join in a new governing coalition but is contesting the credibility of the July 31 vote in court.

Fears are on the rise in the capital of Harare, reports say, that under one-party rule, a host of Mr. Mugabe’s old partners, cronies, henchmen, and friends will start to come out of the woodwork to take advantage of the hour.

So far so good. Without hearing the details, this story sounds right. Though I’ve not been back to Zimbabwe since 1999, I’ve kept up my contacts and have written 150 stories about its travails. At this point the article focuses on the fears of church leaders about what Pres. Mugabe will do next.

Foreign-owned banks, mines, and businesses have heard that, to fulfill a campaign promise made by Mugabe, their assets may be seized and restructured into a majority national ownership arrangement. Now it appears the considerable property of the Anglican church in Zimbabwe, though it is mostly a black membership, may also be under renewed scrutiny by the unscrupulous.

“Oh no”, I thought, not again. Dr. Nolbert Kunonga — an ex-Anglican bishop and one-time crony of Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party — appeared to have come back from the political dead and returned to his evil ways. The article then moves to detail:

The chief Anglican bishop in Zimbabwe, Chad Gandiya, this week accused a renegade clergyman and friend of Mugabe of restarting a campaign using brutality, the courts, and police to seize churches, orphanages, and missions owned by mainstream Anglicans.

That also seemed likely, but Dr. Gandiya is only the Bishop of Harare — one of five Anglican bishops in Zimbabwe. Though bishop of the diocese based in the capital, he is not the chief bishop for the country — the chief bishop is the Archbishop of Central Africa who happens to live in Zambia. But the report seemed right. The diocesan Facebook page recently posted a note saying:

Anglicans across Zimbabwe must remain aware that the disbarred bishop intends to feature prominently in Church affairs and cause confusion, and is reportedly being revived by some evil forces who believe in his crusade to repossess our properties using the Constitutional Court. This is informational, for your knowledge, but remain prayerful. Victory is ours! We must not forget the pain. Anglicans are forgiving.

But after this point things become unglued. It cites an old New York Times story for color quotes on Dr. Kunonga — a name worthy of a James Bond villain — and then states things that set off my alarms.
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