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Missionary’s murder was motivated by church politics, witness charges: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 24, 2010 p 7. September 23, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of Central Africa.
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Canon Rodney Hunter

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The trial of man accused of poisoning an English missionary in Malawi has entered its closing stages.  Leonard Mondoma stands accused of  murdering the Rev Canon Rodney Hunter at the behest of supporters of a rival political faction in the Diocese of Lake Malawi.

The Malawi murder in the vicarage trial reconvened on Sept 20  in a court in Nkhotakota, almost four years after the crime was alleged to have taken place.

On Nov 10, 2006, Canon Hunter was found dead in his home in Nkhotakota.  The Malawian press reported that a black substance had been found on the lips of the 72 year old assistant priest of All Saints Cathedral in Lake Malawi, suggesting he had been poisoned.

Prosecution witness the Rev. Denis Kayamba has accused Mr. Mondoma of poisoning Canon Hunter, claiming the motive for the murder arose from the disputes over the election of a bishop for the diocese.  Mr. Mondoma’s attorneys have denied the charges, arguing Canon Hunter died from natural causes.

Police arrested Bernard Mlota, a lay member of the diocese, and Leonard Mondoma, Canon Hunter’s cook, on suspicion of murder shortly after his death.  Mr. Mlota died in 2008, while Mr. Mondoma was released on bail awaiting trial after 18 months in prison.  The murder trial began in January 2010 and after several delays has been set down for the current court session.

A former librarian of Pusey House, Canon Hunter came out to Malawi in 1965.  In 2005, the traditionalist cleric spearheaded opposition within the diocese to the election of liberal London vicar Nicholas Henderson as bishop of Lake Malawi.  Following the challenge by Canon Hunter and other members of the dioceses, the bishops of the Province of Central Africa declined to affirm Mr. Henderson’s election, citing his ties to the Modern Churchpersons Union.

Supporters of Mr. Henderson mounted several unsuccessful challenges to the bishops’ decision and also filed an appeal with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Panel of Reference.  The rival camps also came to blows in July 2006, when Henderson partisans allegedly disrupted services at All Saints Cathedral, assaulting Canon Hunter.

Writing in the July 2006 issue of New Directions, Canon Hunter blamed Mr. Henderson for the turmoil within the diocese.  Henderson partisans, known as the “Task Force” were “responsible for all the pro-Henderson activities, locking the buildings, letter writing, disruption of services, legal action etc.  All this depends on Mr. Henderson himself,” he wrote.

“If he would accept the decision of the Court of Confirmation as final, as it is according to the canons, and allow the Task Force to disband, the disturbance would end.  I am convinced that the solution to our problem lies in England where it began,” Canon Hunter stated.

The year after Canon Hunter’s death, his nephew, Mark Hunter told the Oct 2007 Forward in Faith meeting in London he believed his uncle had been murdered.  Mr. Hunter stated “it is salutary to note that, of the three people directly opposing the appointment of Nicholas Henderson as bishop, two are now dead and a third, Dennis Kayamba, in fear of his life.”

In July 2007 the secretary of Forward in Faith for Lake Malawi, Mr. Michael Saimon, died in unexplained circumstances, while Canon Kayamba’s family had taken refuge outside the diocese after threats were made on his life.

In a statement released after the FIF speech, Mr. Henderson stated that “no evidence” has been produced “other than Kayamba’s word” that links Mr. Mondoma to Canon Hunter’s death.

“I would like to point out that, as the principal suspect, Canon Hunter’s hapless cook (whom I have never met) is not and never has been one of my ‘supporters’,” he said, noting that Mr. Mondoma was “absolutely loyal and vocally supportive in Canon Hunter’s cause.”

An autopsy conducted by pathologist Dr Charles Dzamalala in 2007 concluded Canon Hunter had died of “respiratory failure most probably due to poisoning.”  A South African laboratory report also found an “unusual substance” in the deceased’s digestive track.

In his defence, attorneys for Mr. Mondoma presented to the court during its January session a report from St Anne’s Hospital in Malawi that concluded Canon Hunter had died of stomach cancer.  They have also argued the foreign substances found during the autopsy were medications taken to treat Canon Hunter’s stomach cancer.

The case for the prosecution is expected to conclude during the week of October 11, when its final witness, Dr. Dzamalala will present his findings.

Comments

1. Mary Peterson - September 25, 2010

It is obvious that Canon Hunter died of stomach cancer – the dark staining around his mouth being the classic coffee-ground vomiting as a result of his illness.


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