The white clad church, popularly known as Johane Masowe we Chishanu or Mapostori, has long been mired in controversy for refusing to send their children to government schools and shunning any form of vaccination.
Recently the Acting United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Country Representative, Marc Rubin, proclaimed that Unicef “is going to make a scrutiny of the controversial health-seeking behaviour of the members of the apostolic groups to come up with an evidence-based program …”
Due to their reluctance to go to hospitals to seek medication, the group has seen most of their members dying from the diseases and a number of children have died due to immunization-related diseases. Members of the apostolic sects are known for resisting government health programmes such as immunization, as they believe that it is unholy to take medicines, pills and injections due to traditionally ingrained misconceptions.
In 2010 there was an international outcry when hundreds of children died from measles because the parents were not willing to have the children immunized.
On the 28 September members of this sect gathered at their shrine in Gandanzara, about 20 kilometres out of Mutare, to praise and commemorate the life of their founder Johannes Masowe. I decided to go along and see the place for myself.
I was shocked to discover that their dead are given greater respect than the living. Alongside the beautifully constructed and immaculately maintained shrine for the late founder’s wife is a dilapidated primary school where the children sit on a bare floor, the room bereft of desks, books and basic equipment. It appears that graves take precedence over the future of their children.
I quite understand that a shrine is a significant monument for the worshippers, but their attitude to their children is, in my mind, appalling. The elders of the church bar the congregants from sending their children to mainstream Ministry of Education schools, fearing “Western Style” education will corrupt their young minds. Indeed very often the small children roaming our nation’s city streets are the children of this sect, sent out to beg rather than sent to school.
I read an article in the local Daily News which made me so frustrated as I see the generation to come being robbed of their potential.
Angelina Kutsvetedzera, a teacher at the church run school says dilapidated as it is, the school attracts many in the community.
Poverty, she says, is the biggest problem.
Some parents do not have money to pay for school fees.
“School fees cost $3 per student per term but with the situation here, that figure is too high. The school is struggling because parents are too poor to help,” says Kutsvetedzera, who is a member of the church.
Due to financial constraints many of the children only go up to grade seven and thereafter the boys are taught survival skills. And the girls are married off in their early teens.
To add insult to injury, right next to Mai Maggie’s shrine is a home for the nuns of the sect – a solid, extravagant villa for which no expense has been spared. It is outrageous that these nuns reside in the lap of luxury while young minds have to battle with the challenges of discomfort, inadequate resources and medieval attitudes.
The Johane Masowe weChishanu sect was founded in the 1930s by Shohniwa Masedza Tandi Moyo who came from Gandanzara in Makoni district. He became popularly known by his religious title “Johane Masowe” or John the Baptist.