FEMALE members of the Johanne Masowe yeChishanu led by one Madzibaba Ishmael Mufani clap their hands, go through the motions and they can even produce award-winning drama on gender-based violence. But deep inside they keep frightening secrets.
PHYLLIS MBANJE AND MOSES MATENGA
The placid expressions on their faces hide their harrowing tales and years of silent suffering that have helped in creating their own prison. The smiles on their faces are not a true reflection of their lives. For years they have been told that a woman’s place is behind her male counterpart and that even the Bible supports this stance.
Their husbands carry out virginity tests on their daughters by inserting their fingers into the innocent girls’ private parts.
But the women have remained silent. Their fear of violence or being ostracised by the only community they know consumes them so much that any outsider who makes attempts to “liberate” them is branded the devil’s advocate.
They are “happy” in their sad and sorry existence and allow themselves to be dominated by the doctrine of their church. Any woman who wants to question the dictates of the church is said to be filled with the vile spirit of the “dark one” and should be exorcised before she contaminates others.
“Contrary to what people think, these people are very intelligent and when we hold awareness meetings with them, they participate and actually condone human rights abuse perpetrated against them — but behind closed doors the girl child suffers,” said the director of Women Action Group (WAG), Edna Masiyiwa.
Masiyiwa said the female apostolic members have guarded their secrets so much that despite the numerous meetings highlighting issues like domestic violence and children’s rights, they still manage to hide the atrocious deeds away from the public glare.
The sordid happenings in the church were however brought into the public domain two weeks ago when some of the members beat up anti-riot police at a shrine in Budiriro 2.
Over 30 members of the sect have since appeared in court facing assault charges after the incident and are currently in police custody.
The actual reasons for the banning of the Madzibaba Ishmael church may however, sadly be overshadowed by the drama surrounding the bashing of police in anti-riot gear by sect-members armed with sticks.
The issue of the wanton abuse of women and children appears to have paled in the shadow of this drama.
“Sadly, as police seek their revenge and as people cheer Madzibaba on, the real issues will be lost,” said one social media commentator.
No police report has been made on the matter of abuse and yet children were allegedly being denied their right to education and health by the church. The sect leaders demanded that women who were not virgins when they got married compensate their husbands by finding virgin girls for them.
“The multi-sectoral meeting we had with the police, Musasa Project [an NGO focused on gender equality] and the ministries of Primary and Secondary Education and Sport, Arts and Culture last Wednesday, resolved that the church be banned without delay as more than 400 children were not going to school because of the rules of the cult,” Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) president Johannes Ndanga said.
Givemore Mahara, a social commentator said of the ongoing debate: “The debate has ceased to be about the rights of the children and women now. It has become politicised with people debating whether Ndanga’s council is fit to handle such matters or whether the police were supposed to be involved.”
“In the process, fundamental issues will be lost but the bottom line is that although there is freedom of worship, it should not infringe on other freedoms like health, education and others,” Mahara said.