HARARE (Reuters) - A renegade Anglican bishop and prominent supporter of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe lost a court battle on Monday to hold on to property including schools and hospitals worth millions of dollars that he had seized from the church.
Ending a feud that had rocked the church in the southern African nation for five years, the Supreme Court said bishop Nolbert Kunonga, who was excommunicated in 2008, and his followers had left the church and therefore had no rights to any of its assets.
"They left it, putting themselves beyond its ecclesiastical jurisdiction," the judgment by deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba read.
The ruling reversed a decision by a lower court that allowed Kunonga to take over hospitals, orphanages and schools and eject rival bishops from church buildings, forcing Zimbabwe's 2 million loyal Anglicans to pray in private schools and halls.
The split even erupted into violence, prompting appeals to Mugabe from the outgoing head of the worldwide Anglican church, Rowan Williams, during a visit to Africa by the archbishop in October 2011.
Analysts say the struggle for control of the Anglican Church reflects a broader bid by Mugabe's ZANU-PF party to exert political influence over churches in a country where more than 80 percent of the 13 million population are Christians.
(Reporting by Nelson Banya; Editing by Ed Cropley)