A child’s cry for life as community ignores religious-related deaths


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Writes Elvis Dumba
Hurungwe –  The communities of  Maronda/Mangate, Shumba, Village 5, Chakaraya and Dzokamushure Villages in Hurungwe District believe evil spirits are operating in their communities and becoming responsible for their children’s deaths.
At Dzokamushure village, a shrine to help these evil spirit-attacked children was set up for religious cleansing and treatment.
They also have a birth attendant to wait on pregnant women.
In these communities, one is warned against being quick to be impressed by new vegetable gardens as newly planted sweet potato beds and other vegetable gardens are a common feature, sprouting each morning but underneath the soils of these so-called gardens, there is something that should be found only in horror movies.
In ward 22, Dzokamushure Village at the Mabhara household, children aged twelve, nine, seven, three, one and half years all lost their lives to “evil spirits.”
The family buried their children on separate occasions with a few close church members as mourners.
Tomato plants adorn one of the graves as if not to put mounds of soil to waste.
The children were reported to have presented acts of hallucinations, oral and nose bleeding with hot bodies. Investigations by this publication revealed that the family, who are members of Johane Marange Apostolic Church, took the hallucinations as evidence of “evil spirits” attacking the family.
At least over 35 children were reported to have died due to measles and mumps in the area where the community largely follows an apostolic sect that does not subscribe to medical health services.
There are no official records of deaths as the burials were not recorded, with most of them being concealed.
An investigation revealed that health officials are now engaging willing families in need of health services undercover as the families want to avoid being ex-communicated from their sect.
The number of children who died due to measles and mumps between the period of March and May 2024 could be much higher as the community has largely remained mum on deaths whilst burials are done under cover, usually in the night with only a new sprouting garden or sweet potato bed in the morning revealing a secret grave, according to this publication’s investigations.
Mashonaland West Provincial Medical Director, Dr Celestino Dhege, told a meeting of provincial heads that it took the health ministry to pick measles deaths due to the concealing of the deaths by the community.
“The community is largely apostolic and very secretive. They can make a new sweet potato bed to conceal a burial and this took us a long time to detect the outbreak, ” Dr Dhege said.
He added health officials now have teams working secretly in the area to offer health services to those in need.
“We decided to have a non-confrontational approach as most of the women with children need the health services for their children but their religion doesn’t permit them, so we have ways to offer these services in secret,” he said.
Tariro Gambe, a 23-year-old mother of four, said she was divorced and excommunicated by her parents after she took one of her children to a health centre.
“I was chased away by my husband after I went to the clinic with him. My parents told me that I had failed to respect our values and was no longer fit to be their daughter, ” she said.
Tariro said had she immunized her children, she could not have lost her nine-year-old child in March.
“After losing my daughter to similar symptoms, I didn’t want to take a chance so I took my child to the clinic. I am happy I did the right thing although I am saddened I no longer have a family,” she tearfully narrated.
Wards 4 and 22 of Hurungwe Rural District Council were the most affected by cases of mumps and measles. The communities strongly believe that evil spirits are punishing them for an unknown abomination done by some senior church leaders.
“When such calamities occur, it means someone in our church has committed an abomination and God is calling us to order and repent, ” Gideon Gilbert a sect leader explained.
“Anyone who chooses to use these medical forms or visits a hospital means he or she has decided not to be part of us,” he said.
Gilbert said the secret burials are meant to help families move away from grief as soon as possible so that they focus on working for those alive.
Most community members here rely on making and selling agricultural tools such as hoes.
Hurungwe Civil Protection Unit established a multi-disciplinary committee on the issue at the beginning of May 2024, constituting various stakeholders in the district, set up to deal with the matter.
“If you suddenly see a new garden or a sweet potato bed in the morning, usually it means there was a burial the previous night. I hope you help us as our children are dying whilst we just look but the women in these churches were brought up in such a way that if they get divorced, they will be outcasts and these are some of the things they remain clinging on, even at the expense of their children,” Ruyamuro Gutsa, a villager in Nyama Village said.
The children in this community largely do not attend school, with girls usually being married as young as 14.
The Provincial Medical Director urged authorities to step in and help the children.
“The death of a child to these apostolic sects does not matter to them as they say they can have another child as if they are moulding bricks,” he said.
Mashonaland West Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution, Hon Marian Chombo, said she will engage the community together with senior government officials who are members of the religious groups.
The Zimbabwean government is one country that has been cited to have been successfully managing measles, working with organisations such as UNICEF. However, the objections by religious groups such as Johane Marange in Hurungwe, threaten to reverse these successes.