AN invitation on Friday to cover the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) meeting in Budiriro 2 was just like any other assignment in the life of a reporter.
But as Moses Matenga recounts, it turned out to be a bloody encounter that left several police officers and a journalist seriously injured.
At around 10am, I arrived at Budiriro police station asking for directions to an apostolic shrine where ACCZ executive president Johannes Ndanga intended to make an important announcement to hundreds of congregants of an apostolic sect in Budiriro 2 which is led by one Madzibaba Ishmael Mufani.
Ndanga and his team had already arrived at the shrine by then and we called one of the ACCZ members to come and escort us.
Ndanga wanted to announce that the church had been, with immediate effect, banned because it engaged in serious human rights violations.
The human rights violations included incidents where fathers tested their daughters’ virginity by inserting fingers into their private parts and forcing them into marriage, denying them medication and not allowing them to go to school among other issues.
More than 20 anti-riot police officers provided security and initially appeared to have the situation under control.
At the shrine, our driver negotiated a safe parking space but in the process, a fellow journalist came to us running and sweating profusely, warning us that we should leave as the members of the sect were running amok.
Fear was written all over his face and while I was still trying to comprehend what he was saying, two police officers, disarmed, beaten and bleeding profusely emerged from the crowd running — confirmation that the shrine was now a war zone and we had to take cover.
We drove away for a few metres and stopped at a safer position, capturing all the drama and at the same time ready to takeoff.
While trying to make head or tail of what was going on, another police officer was down, and a group of angry looking sect members were all over him chanting “uraya, uraya” (kill him, kill him).
In the melee, hundreds more members of the sect were singing “Humambo hwemapfumo neropa” while the policeman lay prostate in a pool of blood.
Sensing danger, several police officers who were advancing towards the mob retreated and fled the scene.
A few metres away, another police officer was being clobbered with shepherd staffs targeting mainly his face.
Within minutes, the place was cleared of any police officer except those badly injured and the focus shifted to onlookers.
The only safe thing to do then was to run as it had become evident that the police officers had fled the scene and there was no more security.
The angry mob was now beating everyone they suspected to be an “enemy”.
Their apparent means of identifying strangers was footwear. All those putting on shoes were enemies as it is the norm for all members and bonafide visitors to the shrine to remove their shoes.
Among those attacked was our colleague Relax Mafurutu, a ZBC cameraperson.
The ZBC truck had its windscreens smashed.
Mafurutu tried to flee but one of the sect members gave chase and tripped him to the ground before letting loose his shepherd staff on him.
While he was down, more than 10 sect members went for him, attacking him while he screamed and pleaded with them saying he was just a journalist doing his job.
His pleas fell on deaf ears as they shouted their intention to kill.
Realising he needed our help, The Standard photographer Shepherd Tozvireva, Zimbabwe Mail photographer Watson Ofumeli and I made a few steps forward. But fear got the better of us and we retreated.
Mafurutu lay helpless and crying for help while his workmate, driving the ZBC truck was now also at the mercy of the marauding Mapostori shattering windscreens of his truck while he was inside.
Everyone save for the sect members, was now confused and very afraid.
I turned commander for a moment, one very frightened one nonetheless, giving a command to the photographers who still wanted to capture the drama to leave the place and meanwhile, sadly, Mafurutu remained down, unconscious.
Meanwhile, triumphant members of the apostolic sect were laughing, declaring victory.
They got into their vehicles, the majority of them kombis, and for a moment, we thought they were after us.
The driver jumped in, and so did the four of us, the fourth being a member of the ACCZ and we sped off to safety at the nearby police station.
But there was no safety to talk about at the police station. In fact, there was pandemonium. The officers were still in a state of panic. Fear was written all over their faces thinking probably that the members of the sect were still after them.
Fear was written on almost everyone’s face, the police, the journalists and the officials from ACCZ. An order was given from inside the police station to shut the main gate, just in case.
At the station, three female police officers, badly injured and struggling to walk arrived. One of them had her clothes wet, an indication that she had collapsed and had water poured on her for resuscitation.
Three apostolic members (we were not sure whether they were from the shrine or not) in a green twin cab arrived. People who had sought refuge at the station scrambled for cover, fleeing from the three unarmed sect members who were allowed in, spent more than five minutes before they were allowed out, shaking their heads in disbelief.
The battle ended with nine police officers nursing serious injuries while ACCZ Harare chairman Lameck Chitope was also badly injured.
Mafurutu arrived later in the ZBC truck, lying at the back and writhing in pain while police officers prepared reports to take the injured to hospital.
A fellow journalist used his own vehicle to take other injured police officers to hospital.
We arrived at the shrine just in time for the clashes but had missed how the drama started.
An audio tape recording later provided by Ndanga revealed that when the ACCZ boss took to the podium and read out his judgement amid interjections from one very vocal member of the sect, all hell broke loose.
“With the powers vested in me as the executive president of the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe, today on May 30 2014, I have stopped the church…”
His statement was interjected with: “Hapana vachena panoapa, musataure nechirungu” (there are no whites here, don’t speak to us in English).
Someone is heard asking the police officers to arrest the one who was interjecting and at that point, all hell broke loose.
“You can take all of us, we have already committed a crime,” the apostolic member is heard saying.
Ndanga made good his escape in his Range Rover vehicle amid shouts from the apostolic members threatening to kill him.
After failing to vent their anger on Ndanga who had fled, the apostolic members faced baton-wielding police officers and then, it was mayhem.