Zanzibar cathedral seeks to starve out its bishop

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The dispute between the Rt. Rev. Michael Hafidh and clergy and lay leaders of the Diocese of Zanzibar took an unexpected turn earlier this month, when the wardens of Christ Church Cathedral in Stone Town on 22 Oct 2020 opened the church to tourists and waived entrance fees.

The cathedral, its car park and adjacent businesses provide over $1million US dollars per year in gross income for the diocese of Zanzibar, far surpassing all other sources of parochial income. Opening the cathedral to tourists without charge all but wipes out the diocese’s non-parochial income, diocesan insiders told AI.

The year 2020 has not been kind to Bishop Hafidh. In February 2020 a petition to the Tanzanian primate prepared by members of the diocese accused the bishop of misconduct.

He was accused of having committed adultery with the wife of a member of the cathedral parish, and after the woman became pregnant, allegedly procuring an abortion for her. He was also accused of diverting diocesan and cathedral funds for his own use, including leasing out diocesan property to commercial ventures without informing the diocesan standing committee and pocketing the proceeds.

The adultery allegations were raised in a 29 June 2020 court filing in the Vuga High Court, case number 21/2020, before Judge Yessaya Kayange. Mr. Saburi Khamis is seeking damages against the bishop for having had an affair with his wife, Anun Ramadhani. At a 20 July 2020 hearing attorneys for the bishop denied the allegations, and the bishop told the press he was confident he would be exonerated. 

The bishop’s actions led to protests from a number of clergy with the dispute leading to a melee at Christ Church Cathedral on 31 August 2020. The bishop’s critics blocked the bishop from entering the cathedral. A fight then broke out between the two groups and the police were called to restore order — with the bishop losing his mitre in the scuffle, which was soon recovered.

Sources in the diocese tell AI the cathedral leaders have opened the historic monument and the old slave market — one of the island’s principle tourist attractions — free of charge, in the belief that the bishop would loosen his grip on the diocese if his principle source of income was shut down.