Nearly 10 years ago, Dr. John Sentamu, the archbishop of York, dramatically cut his clerical collar into pieces on live television. The prominent Church of England leader refused to wear it again until Zimbabwe’s longtime leader, Robert Mugabe, stepped down.
Now that 93-year-old Mugabe has resigned, Sentamu has ended his protest on the same BBC program on which he began it.
Sentamu returned to BBC One’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday to put his clerical collar back on ― and to deliver a dire new warning to Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is accused of implementing violence under Mugabe.
“It’s quite possible that Emmerson Mnangagwa could actually be a very, very good president. But he can’t simply bury the past ― it won’t go away,” Sentamu said.
Mugabe resigned under pressure from the military on Nov. 21. During his 37-year presidency, he oppressed opponents, oversaw grave human rights abuses, and drove his country’s economy into the ground.
Mnangagwa, the former vice president, is being closely watched to see if his approach to leadership will differ from that of his predecessor.
Sentamu, who was born in Uganda, is no stranger to the harm caused by dictatorial regimes. The archbishop was once a judge in Uganda’s High Court. In 1974, he was jailed for 30 days for criticizing the brutal regime of former Ugandan President Idi Amin. He fled to the U.K., where he began studying theology and eventually became an ordained priest in the Church of England.
Sentamu began his symbolic protest of Mugabe in December 2007. He removed his clerical collar, explaining that he wears it to identify himself as a clergyman. He then took a scissor and cut the collar into pieces, saying that Mugabe had similarly “taken people’s identity” and “cut it to pieces.”
Sentamu said he has been reminded of his protest every day since then.
“Normally, I tie the top button and then put on my collar, but for nearly 10 years, I haven’t be able to,” he said. “And it has meant I remember Zimbabwe.”
On Sunday’s show, host Marr revealed that he had kept the pieces of Sentamu’s old, cut-up collar with him all these years. Sentamu said he could potentially try to glue the pieces of the collar back together. But what he really needed was a brand-new collar, which he produced from his pocket.
“I actually think the lesson for Zimbabwe is the same,” Sentamu told Marr. “They just can’t try and stitch it up. Something more radical; something new needs to happen.”
The next step that Sentamu hopes for from Mugabe is an apology.
“Mugabe at some point needs to say to the people of Zimbabwe, ‘Thirty-seven years I took on a country which was fantastic. I nearly took it to ruin. Zimbabweans, forgive me.’”