By The Zimbabwean
“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.