BY KENNETH NYANGANI
Police yesterday claimed that members of the Johanne Marange Apostolic sect that are said to have gathered in Manicaland for an annual festival were permanent residents at a shrine there.
Activists have been pushing the police to act against the thousands that allegedly congregated at Mafararikwa in Bocha as they were violating Covid-19 restrictions.
The church commands a huge following across the country and in the region and an estimated 20 000 congregants gather in Marange every year for their annual Passover feast.
This year church members have been gathered since July 3. They only started dispersing last night.
Police, who have been saying they were not aware of what was happening at the shrine, yesterday said there was never a gathering.
“As far as police is concerned, there are no people gathered in Marange except for those who are permanent residents at the shrine,” police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said.
“Police have deployed officers on the ground to monitor the situation.
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“Police in Marange, Manicaland, in their findings said there are no people gathered in Marange.”
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights last week wrote to the police demanding action to disperse the church members, raising Covid-19 fears. The police did not respond to the July 12 letter.
Bocha Diamond Community Trust chairman Moses Mukwada also gave police 48 hours to act, but there was no action. Makwanda is based in Manicaland.
Villagers in Marange yesterday said they feared a Covid-19 outbreak as the shrine was overcrowded.
Mukwada said in previous years, even without Covid-19, there were outbreaks of diseases after the sect’s Passover gathering.
“The Johanne Marange apostolic members are dispersing tomorrow (today) after their annual Passover, so we are fearing the worst because these people are going back to their respective communities and many of them are from Marange,” he said.
“We think that Covid cases are going to rise sharply,” he said.
“These people don’t sanitise and they don’t even want to be vaccinated.
“In previous years even without Covid-19, whenever these people dispersed we encountered outbreaks of diseases such as cholera.”
Mukwada claimed that there were political bigwigs, who were in support of the gathering.