Mugabe calls for Africanisation of church

Harare, Zimbabwe - Stung by recent criticism from churches in Zimbabwe ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections this weekend, President Robert Mugabe says the church must be "Africanised."Churches must be run by Africans, he told members of the Apostolic sect in Bulawayo this weekend.

"Our people must be able to head even the old churches and perhaps the new ones also," Mugabe said in comments carried by Tuesday's official Herald daily.

"We want to see the Africanisation of the church, which does not mean bringing in an African God because there is only one universal God. But the running of the church," he said.

The Apostolic church in Zimbabwe commands a large following and its white-robed members are a constant feature at Mugabe's rallies. Other churches though have dared to speak out against perceived excesses and abuses by Mugabe and his government.

Last week the recently-appointed Anglican bishop of Harare, Sebastian Bakare, suggested "fundamental change" was needed in Saturday's polls. Change is a slogan used by opposition candidates.

Despite the flight of many whites during the last eight years of economic turmoil, there are still a number of white pastors, clerics and missionaries operating in Zimbabwe, including those at churches like Harare's wealthy Celebration Centre.

Mugabe has loyal and often-paraded clerical allies in the shapes of Bakare's predecessor, ousted Anglican bishop Nolbert Kunonga who describes Mugabe as a prophet of God and the Reverend Obadiah Msindo, who has appeared on state TV exhorting Zimbabweans to vote for Mugabe. Msindo has a rape case pending against him.

At the church rally, the president promised the Apostolic church a nearby farm and a tarred road.