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Bishop Abel Muzorewa dies at 84


7:30 P.M. April 8, 2010 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

Bishop Abel T. 
Bishop Abel T. Muzorewa

Bishop Abel Tendekayi Muzorewa, who helped lead Zimbabwe to majority rule, has died. He was 84.

The bishop died April 8 in his home in Borrowdale, a suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe. He had been battling cancer.

Muzorewa was a trailblazer as one of the first African United Methodist bishops, and he emerged as a national leader during his country’s struggle toward full independence.

“He made a great contribution to Zimbabwe,” said retired Bishop Herbert Skeete of Riverdale, N.Y., who worked with Muzorewa.

Muzorewa “was one of the 20th century’s great champions for the liberation of people in Africa, especially his homeland of Zimbabwe,” said Thomas Kemper, top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

“His struggle to loose the chains of colonialism distinguishes him in a special way,” Kemper said. “He served both the church and his emerging nation with a sense of purpose and determination at a time of transition and uncertainty.”

Retired Bishop Emilio DeCarvalho of Luanda, Angola, remembered Muzorewa as an advocate for ministry in Africa.

“He worked very hard with the other bishops for the strengthening of The United Methodist Church in Africa. We are deeply sorry for his loss. The church in Africa will miss him very much, and in Zimbabwe in particular,” DeCarvalho said.

Retired Bishop Felton E. May described the bishop and former prime minister as a “personification of Christ resurrection and power with a life of being one of God’s sons.” Bishop May recalled Muzorewa quoting the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a political rally at Old Mutare, Zimbabwe:“We will live together as sisters and brothers or die together as fools.”

“He avoided acts of social and political foolishness and demonstrated what it meant to be a man of integrity,” said May. “May God’s resurrection power firmly anchor him in the hearts of his global family as God’s heavenly hosts shout ‘Hallelujah’ for his earthly journey and his heavenly rest.”

Eldest of nine

Muzorewa would have been 85 on April 14. He was born the eldest of nine children in Old Umtali, during the colonial era when his country was known as Rhodesia. He was educated at Methodist schools in Chinyadza, Old Mutare and Nyadire and became a schoolteacher in 1944. That same year, he began to preach and became a lay evangelist. His interest in ministry led him to the Theological School at Old Mutare Mission.

Ordained a deacon by Bishop Newell Booth and elder by Bishop Ralph Dodge, Muzorewa joined the Rhodesia Annual Conference in 1956. After graduating from Hartzell Theological School, he became assistant conference director of evangelism and pastor of a 16-point circuit. He continued his studies in 1958 at the Missouri School of Religion in Columbia, Mo., followed by Central Methodist College and Scarritt College, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, respectively. He has honorary degrees from several colleges and a seminary.

Bishop Muzorewa says 
'the world is ripe for harvest' and now is the time to win people to 
Christ during a 2005 celebration celebrating his 60 years of ministry. A
 UMNS file photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.
Bishop Muzorewa says 'the world is ripe for harvest' and now is the time to win people to Christ during a 2005 celebration celebrating his 60 years of ministry.
A UMNS file photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.
View in Photo Gallery

Muzorewa’s career in ministry included serving as pastor and station chairperson at Old Mutare Mission. He became conference director of youth in 1965, and then youth secretary of the Christian Council and traveling secretary of the Student Christian Movement the next year.

Advocate for independence

In 1968, Muzorewa was elected bishop and assigned to the Zimbabwe Area by The United Methodist Church’s Africa Central Conference.

Skeete described his friend as a great supporter of The United Methodist Church. “He was a valiant witness for the continent of Africa in the Council of Bishops. This was at a time when there were few African representatives in the Council of Bishops. He was highly respected by his peers, especially those who had experienced ministry in Africa.”

Muzorewa became a leading figure in his country’s struggle for majority rule, serving as the head of the United African National Council. During a time of violence and tension, Muzorewa was involved in peace talks with Ian Smith, Rhodesia’s prime minister. In 1979, as the country transitioned to majority rule, Muzorewa was elected prime minister of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, but it was a role he held for less than a year. Civil war raged in the country, and new elections were held in 1980 as the result of peace negotiations.

Robert Mugabe emerged as the victor in those elections and has retained power ever since. In 1983, Muzorewa was detained for 10 months without trial by the government, but later said he had forgiven those responsible.

Muzorewa described his experiences and Zimbabwe’s journey to independence in his autobiography, “Rise Up and Walk.”

Said Kemper: “I pray that the spirit of the struggle for freedom he embodied will remain alive in Zimbabwe.”

The bishop retired Sept. 1, 1992. The Bishop A.T. Muzorewa Evangelism Foundation was launched in 2005 in Old Mutare, at a celebration of the bishop’s 60 years in ministry.

Bishop Muzorewa, in 
white cassock and red stole, celebrates the 10th anniversary of Africa 
University in 2002.  A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.
Bishop Muzorewa, in white cassock and red stole, celebrates the 10th anniversary of Africa University in 2002.
A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.
View in Photo Gallery

At that celebration, Zimbabwe Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa described Muzorewa as “one of the greatest preachers our church has ever had.”

Muzorewa himself exhorted his listeners to evangelize.

“In spite of the poor economy, the drought, the economic hardships, go and evangelize. In the face of global terror, go and evangelize,” he said, in a UMNS report of the event. “Make no apologies for evangelizing because it is Jesus’ commandment and mission.”

Muzorewa’s wife Maggie, whom he married in 1951, died in July 2009. They were the parents of five children and the grandparents of five grandchildren.

*Mudambanuki and Tanton are on staff at United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Tafadzwa Mudambanuki or Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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