Thousands of Johanne Marange Apostolic sect congregants are gathering in the Mafararikwa area under Chief Marange for a two week Passover ceremony despite a government ban on public gatherings, including churches, under the level four COVID-19 lockdown.
The gathering commenced on 3 July is scheduled to run up to 17 July. Reports suggest that some of the congregants have crossed borders to attend the ceremony.
When contacted for comment by TellZim News, Manicaland Police Spokesperson Inspector Luxson Chananda said he could not comment as he was not on the ground.
Responding to a post on Twitter recently, Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Nick Mangwana said the apostolic sect members are not exempted from COVID-19 measures. He said:
They are not allowed to gather. They are just behaving the same way as drunkards.
Meanwhile, some villagers from the Marange area expressed concern on why the government is letting the gathering proceed as it is a potential COVID-19 superspreader.
A Zimbabwe Diamonds Allied Minerals Workers (ZIDAWU) representative Cosmas Sunguro said the church gathering has exposed mineworkers in the Chiadzwa area to the coronavirus. He said:
We are not happy as it seems like the church is exempted by the law. Some congregants are even jumping borders coming from hotspot countries, some of which have deadly variants of the virus, putting the lives of community members and those who work in Chiadzwa at risk.
Marange is under threat and we are doomed as we foresee disaster unfolding after the Passover.
If only one congregant amongst them is COVID-19 positive, there is a high probability that the deadly virus will spread like veld fire.
Sunguro also said community members are sharing boreholes with the congregants, which further exposes the whole community to the virus.
Some observers opined that the government has turned a blind eye to the Johanne Marange Apostolic sect gathering because the church’s leaders are political bedfellows with the ruling ZANU PF party.
Some church members who spoke to TellZim News on condition of anonymity confirmed that they indeed are gathered in Marange for the big Passover event in their thousands.