FOURTEEN members of the Mugodhi Apostolic Sect died, while several others were injured after a lorry loaded with bags of maize veered off the road and ploughed into worshippers at a roadside shrine in Wedza yesterday morning.
Six people died on the spot, five others were pronounced dead on arrival at Mt St Mary’s Mission Hospital, while three died after admission.
The accident occurred at the famous Chitope area, popularly known as PaJerusarema, where thousands of sect members converge each year this time for their Passover.
Mashonaland East provincial police spokesperson Inspector Tendai Mwanza confirmed the accident and said he was still waiting for a detailed report from Wedza.
When NewsDay arrived at the scene, police were busy loading corpses into their truck before ferrying them to Mt St Mary’s Mission Hospital mortuary.
Some of the congregants were busy covering blood spilled on the ground with soil while the lorry and the maize were still by the roadside.
A witness, Champion Nota (35), said the driver of the lorry was speeding.
“There are a lot of people at this place and because of parking space problems, drivers leave their cars along the highway on both sides, leaving a narrow lane. So, the driver of the lorry was speeding upon approaching the area and to avoid a head-on collision with a bus that was going the opposite direction, he veered off the road and ploughed into people and their goods. If it were not of a pick-up truck that he went on to hit, it was going to be worse,” he said.
About 40 000 pilgrims converge at Chitope, a Mugodhi Apostolic Sect headquarters in Wedza, for Easter and other gatherings.
The area is home to two sects after a split a few years ago.
Both sects hold their events along the Wedza-Murambinda Highway.
The gatherings also attract business with vendors flocking to sell their wares.
For years, it has proved to be a daunting task for other motorists to pass through the shrine due to traffic jams, with some taking almost an hour to pass through.
Muchemwa Mugwisi, director in the office of Mashonaland East Provincial Affairs ministry, who was at the scene, said in the long-term, there was need to relocate the churches
to a safe place.
“We need a long-term solution to this. We need to find space for these churches, an area that is not a threat to human life. We have two churches with lots of people and this place is crowded given its proximity to the road,” he said.
One of the church leaders, Bishop Tony Sigauke, said the church gathering would no longer continue, because they had to return home to mourn the dead together.
“I have never experienced such a tragedy ever since we started worshipping here in 1962. We had our Passover Feast last night and some decided to go back home, despite the event concluding on April 21. Ten of our members died, while one who died is a vendor. We are going to cut the event short so that we mourn together as a family. Those who died are from Buhera, who were by the roadside to get transport back home,” he said.
Of the deceased, three are from the same family in Mashambamuto, Buhera.
Meanwhile, the apostolic sect is appealing for assistance from government and well-wishers in burying the deceased members.