Mapositori power struggles

Religious fundamentalism is alien to Zimbabwe, but signs of its proliferation are beginning to manifest themselves in different ways as money increasingly becomes the centrepiece and main driver for building congregations.

BY RICHARD CHIDZA

A family torn from its patriarch and a religious cult seeking to make the best out of its founder; this is the setting for a vicious power struggle within an apostolic sect known as Vadzidzi VaJesu headquartered in the political hotbed of Mashonaland Central province.

Add a sinister military angle and the usual political vote-buying, then one has a powder keg waiting to explode at any moment.

Four men [names supplied] with support from Vadzidzi VaJesu apostolic church founder Aaron Mhukuta’s fourth wife, have allegedly ring-fenced the 93-year-old church leader.

The four are also being accused by their adversaries of being linked to the murder of a church member, one Jacob Zifungo, who was originally from Gwanda, in a botched punishment schedule for allegedly refusing to toe the line.

“Zifungo died while being punished for refusing to join a pyramid scheme known as Tiangi [Chinese herbal selling scheme]. The four were arrested before being bailed out and I think the bail conditions were waived, but now they are engaged in acts of violence. Police have tried to mediate but they have also been rebuffed,” charged Exnevia Gomo, one of Mhukuta’s sons, a Professor of Immunology in an interview with The Standard.

The medical school lecturer has written to Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri pleading for his intervention in attempts to free his father. He also claims the four men could be violating their bail conditions.

Efforts to get a response to these allegations from the four men, including travelling to the shrine where they are said to be based failed as The Standard team was threatened and chased away from the shrine last week.

Wimpo-shrine

Pilgrims at the shrine at Gora. Their leader was removed from his home to stay at the shrine

“I strongly believe that these men are the masterminds of violent behaviour currently being perpetrated against the Gomo family, the community and the church members from Harare who were attacked at the shrine on July 17

“The church shrine is a place where every member and non-members gather every Friday to worship. However, access to this place has been restricted. Several church members were assaulted on allegations that they were opposed to the leadership and arrests [were] made. However, one of the victims, Grashwence Gomo [another of Mhukuta’s sons] withdrew the case from the Mt Darwin Magistrates court based on church principle,” said Gomo.

Mhukuta’s first wife Enesia Mhukuta with whom he has lived since the couple married 47 years ago is heartbroken. She has not been allowed access to her husband and says she has not been able to see him in the past three months.

“I went there with a driver because I cannot walk but the people there turned violent. They wanted to beat the boy [driver] and I had to plead with them not to do it. For the past two months I have not had an intimate conversation with my husband.

“In fact, this year has been horrible because of these people. They are making money out of him [her husband] by asking church members to contribute to different projects. The church will raise money for the projects but much more than is required. They then pocket the difference,” the old woman said with a cracking voice, visibly on the verge of tears.

“I never had time to say goodbye to my husband [when he was taken to the shrine]. He is my benefactor. The man I have lived with since 1958 has been taken away from me. He has indicated that he wants to die at his home but they will not allow him. His youngest wife is with him and she has become part of the church’s hierarchy.”

Mbuya Mhukuta said her husband had clearly said he did not want to be where he was being kept against his will and that he, in apparent reference to his old age and infirmity, wanted to die among his children.

“My husband does not want to stay there anymore but he is unable to enforce or make his will publicly known because he is heavily guarded. The last time I went there we were only granted ordinary greetings in the guards’ presence. He says he wants God to take him. His ear is sore and he says they are keeping him there against his will,” she said.

Enesia Mhukuta (seated) poses for a picture with the rest of the family. They are pleading with the captors to bring back their patriarch.

Enesia Mhukuta (seated) poses for a picture with the rest of the family. They are pleading with the captors to bring back their patriarch.

The family say they have reported a case of kidnapping against the “top four” but police seem to have their hands tied.

Police at Madziwa referred questions to provincial spokesperson Inspector Milton Mudembe who became cagey when contacted for comment.

“I started leave on Monday; ask Assistant Inspector Masikati, he will be able to give you the latest on that story,” said Mudembe.

Asked what it is that had been reported, Mudembe changed his position.

“We have not received any report of kidnapping,” he said before hanging up. This was despite the fact that The Standard was reliably informed that he (Mudembe) had attended a senior provincial security meeting earlier in Mt Darwin in the morning to late afternoon on Thursday.

Zimbabwe Defence Forces chief of staff Douglas Nyikayaramba has also been implicated in the mayhem, according to Mhukuta’s other son Abenaishen Gomo.

“The family is under siege but all we have asked is for our father to come home to be with us, or better still, for us to be allowed to visit him. He is our children’s grandfather and they need him around, especially given his age.

“We have soldiers living in the mountains close by, monitoring our movements and at times they come here to cause unnecessary consternation. A senior army officer has become part of the leadership that is holding our father against his will. He is listed as head of defence and intelligence. We think that is why police are powerless to act,” said Gomo.

Contacted for comment, Nyikayaramba denied any involvement in the church wrangle. He said: “I am not aware of that. It is news to me,” said Nyikayaramba.

Quizzed on whether there had been any military exercise in the Madziwa area, Nyikayaramba responded in the affirmative.

“The only military exercise I am aware of in that area was a peace-keeping exercise by the Brigade in Mt Darwin,” he said.“My husband does not want to stay there anymore but he is unable to enforce or make his will publicly known because he is heavily guarded. The last time I went there we were only granted ordinary greetings in the guards’ presence. He says he wants God to take him. His ear is sore and he says they are keeping him there against his will,” she said.

The family say they have reported a case of kidnapping against the “top four” but police seem to have their hands tied.

Police at Madziwa referred questions to provincial spokesperson Inspector Milton Mudembe who became cagey when contacted for comment.

“I started leave on Monday; ask Assistant Inspector Masikati, he will be able to give you the latest on that story,” said Mudembe.

Asked what it is that had been reported, Mudembe changed his position.

“We have not received any report of kidnapping,” he said before hanging up. This was despite the fact that The Standard was reliably informed that he (Mudembe) had attended a senior provincial security meeting earlier in Mt Darwin in the morning to late afternoon on Thursday.

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