OFFICERS at Marange Police Station were reportedly denied entry into the Johane Marange shrine in Mafararikwa village, Bocha, since July 3 when over 30 000 members of the sect started their annual Passover in contravention of a COVID-19-induced government ban on public gatherings.
Journalists from private media houses yesterday had to flee after the sect’s vigilante group turned violent on realising the presence of the media in their midst.
The Johane Marange retreat, which started on July 3, has been allowed to continue uninterrupted despite a government ban on public gatherings, with Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe insisting last week that he was only aware of a few permanent residents at the shrine.
NewsDay yesterday discreetly entered the shrine and interviewed some sect members who confirmed that the Passover had over 30 000 delegates.
The sources said their leaders had ordered them to vacate the shrine last night.
“We have started packing our bags since we have been told to start going back home,” one of the sect members, who identified himself as Madzibaba John, said.
Dozens of hired lorries and taxis were parked outside the shrine, ready to take the congregants back to their respective communities.
Officers at Marange Police Station claimed that they were denied entry into the shrine since the meeting started early this month.
“We are being denied entry into the shrine by the members of the apostolic sect. There are many of them,” said the police source.
Another police source said: “We even requested permission from our officer-in-charge, Inspector Muruko, to teargas the sect members to disperse them, but she told us that we were ‘small fish in the game’.”
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi last night said he was unaware that law enforcement agents had been denied entry into the shrine.
“I am at the farm, I am not aware that police are being denied entry into the shrine,” Nyathi said.
Bocha Diamond Community Trust chairperson Moses Mukwada, who has been vocal about the super spreader gathering, accused police of selective application of the law.
“We are going to see the results when they disperse. COVID-19 will be spreading. Police should mount roadblocks around Marange tonight (yesterday) and ask these people where they will be coming from so that they can get them tested. It won’t be surprising that many of them will test positive for COVID-19,” he said.
Some of the congregants reportedly came from as far as South Africa and Namibia.