POLICE yesterday vowed to track down and arrest leader of the Johane Masowe yeChishanu sect Madzibaba Ishmael Mufani and his followers following last Friday’s violent clashes which saw several police officers and journalists injured during a raid at his shrine in Budiriro, Harare.
Officials from the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) were not spared the battering, as the sect members fiercely resisted plans by the Johannes Ndanga-led ACCZ’s executive to ban their church over alleged gross child rights abuses.
Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba (pictured) said they had deployed heavily in the high-density suburb to bring the suspects to book.
“We are still looking for him (madzibaba Ishmael). We have intensified our investigations. So far we have arrested six in connection with the violence,” Charamba said.
But sources said yesterday more sect members had been rounded up in connection with the violence, with authorities moving in to seal the church venue.
An official close to the investigation said: “25 people have so far been arrested and the investigations are ongoing. We expect more people to be arrested.”
The police clampdown came as Ndanga’s team threatened to demolish all artefacts at the sect’s shrine and declare it a no-go area. Violence broke out after police escorted Ndanga and his team to announce a ban on the sect.
Among other charges, the sect leaders were accused of inserting their fingers into their daughter’s private parts to test for virginity, marrying them off at a tender age and denying them formal education.
Ndanga yesterday said madzibaba Ishmael had since deserted his home as the police intensified their manhunt.
“The place they use to do their gatherings is not theirs. They have never requested it from (Harare city) council. We are negotiating with council that the place be allocated for other purposes,” Ndanga said.
He said he had tried to negotiate with madzibaba Ishmael since June last year after receiving reports of ungodly practices, but to no avail.
“We summoned him three times and at each meeting, he promised to stop the human violations, but never did so. Last Wednesday, we had a multi-sectorial meeting including the ministries of Education and Culture, Victims Friendly section, Msasa Project, other churches and various other stakeholders and decided that the church be banned. Other Johane Masowe eChishanu groups disassociated themselves from the group,” he said.
He said the move to ban the sect was a collective decision involving his organisation, women and child rights groups, among them Msasa Project.
“When they attacked the police, they were singing ungodly songs. They do not even read the Bible. Ishmael is their Bible. They do not allow use of cellphones, radios, televisions and other modern electrical gadgets,” he added.
Prior to the clash, Ndanga said he was banning the church for a number of transgressions.
“As ACCZ, we discovered that you denied over 400 children of school-going age access to education. You force your congregants to sell their properties so as to guarantee them entry into what is termed Canaan,” Ndanga said.
“There is severe abuse of church congregants and their families or relatives by way of not allowing pregnant women to attend either ante-natal and or post-natal care from trained medical personnel as this is regarded as satanic. You coerce church members not to possess technological gadgets such as television sets and cell phones under unfounded religious claims where Madzibaba Ishamel is calling himself ‘God’,” he said.
Three police officers were seriously injured while three others escaped with minor injuries.
A ZBC photographer, who tried to film the incident, was also clobbered by the marauding congregants using their shepherd’s crooks. Windows of a ZBC van were also smashed in the stand-off.
Lameck Chitope, ACCZ Harare provincial chairman, was bludgeoned on the head with a shepherd’s crook and sustained serious injuries.
Journalists and ACCZ members had to take refuge at Budiriro 2 Police Station as the agitated mapostori bayed for their blood.
The ACCZ played an instrumental role in the probe and arrest of Robert Martin Gumbura of the RGM End Time Message Church.
Gumbura was eventually convicted for raping several congregants and is currently serving an effective 40-year-jail term after the courts quashed his bail bids.