Apostolic sect causes health crisis

Hundreds of Apostolic sect members, particularly children, are dying as their church bars them from seeking medical health. Their deaths go unrecorded because of lack of documentation.

“This is a national but silent crisis that requires urgent attention from government and human rights organisations. It is a sad thing that most of the victims are innocent children and young women,” said Melanie Chiponda of the Chiadzwa Community Development Trust (CCDT) this week.

It is difficult to establish the exact figures because surviving family members do not seek burial orders, while local community structures do not record the deaths. But rights activists believe several hundreds die every year.

The Johanne Marange Apostolic sect has many thousands of members. A large group is located close to the vast diamond mining fields of Chiadzwa led by Noah Taguta, a polygamist believed to have more than 100 wives and several hundred children.

Communities members testified to this paper that death among the sect followers has become a daily routine. Josphat Makowa, a senior sect follower in his early 50s from Muchisi Village in Chiadzwa’s Ward 18, has to date lost 22 children, all aged below 12.

Makowa, with seven surviving wives, has had all his children delivered at home and none of them, or his wives, have ever visited a health centre. Recently, he asked villagers to help upgrade the 22 graves, which cover close to an acre of land.

Sub-chief Munyoro, whose jurisdiction straddles wards 17 and 18, recently expressed anger at the rate at which church members were dying.

“He urged the members to seek help at clinics and hospitals, saying he was tired of burying Apostolic members,” said a villager who declined to be named.

From the same village as Makowa, John Mutumba, referred to by most of the locals as “Bhunu”, has buried 15 children in the last six years.

Peter Chikura, another Johanne Marange worshipper with six wives, has seen 75 children from his extended family which lives on the same homestead die in the last decade.

“In some cases, as many as two children would die at the same time and be buried without notifying the Registrar of Deaths. This family represents one of the saddest cases in the sect, with a good number of the children being Chikura’s grandchildren,” said Chiponda.

The family remains adamant that it will not take its members to hospital.

“What makes the whole tragedy worse is the fact that these sect members are in denial mode. When encouraged to take their children to clinics, they say death is not a new thing in life. They say if it was, there would not be mortuaries where people who go to hospital are buried,” added Chiponda.

Sect members reportedly run away from community rights activists and health staff who regularly visit them in an effort to educate them on the need to go to seek medical help.

Maternal mortality is also high because pregnant women, among them many teenage expecting mothers, are forced to deliver at home.

A makeshift settlement comprising plastic shacks has been set up at a place called Chipiro in Chiadzwa’s Mutarikwa Village in Ward 16 where members of the church go to deliver with the help of an elderly woman.

A high ranking official within the Apostolic movement that comprises hundreds of sect countrywide, said high mortality was not limited to Chiadzwa.

“I am aware of the high number of deaths due to the abuse of church members at Marange, but this problem is nationwide. Thousands of sect members have over the years died because of this widespread violation of human rights,” said the official.

The remote rural Dande region in Mashonaland West is also home to sects that still refuse to take their members to hospital. Health officials, in the company of the police, make sporadic raids in the area and force people to receive medication and immunisation but sect members continue to die in large numbers.

Recently, Reverend Johanne Ndanga banned a fundamentalist Apostolic church based in Harare’s Budiriro suburb for gross abuse of members’ rights. The ban resulted in violence when sect members assaulted the police and journalists, resulting in the arrest of more than 30 of the assailants who have been granted bail.

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