Members of the Johanne Marange Apostolic sect reportedly barred police officers at Marange Police Station from getting into their shrine in Mafararikwa village, Bocha.
Over 30 000 Mapositori (Apostolic sect) members were holding their annual Passover at the shrine since 3 July in contravention of a COVID-19-induced government ban on public gatherings.
The retreat was allowed to continue uninterrupted despite a government ban on public gatherings, with the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) saying it was only aware of a few permanent residents at the shrine.
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However, NewsDay reported some sect members as saying that the Passover had over 30 000 delegates.
One of the sect members, who identified himself as Madzibaba John, told the publication that their leaders had ordered them to vacate the shrine on Sunday night. He said:
We have started packing our bags since we have been told to start going back home.
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. A 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.
Bocha Diamond Community Trust chairperson Moses Mukwada, who has been vocal about the super spreader gathering, said the Mapositori retreat is a COVID-19 time bomb.
He urged the police to mount roadblocks around Marange and make sure that all the pilgrims are tested for coronavirus. Said Mukwada:
It won’t be surprising that many of them will test positive for COVID-19.
Some of the congregants reportedly came from neighbouring countries including South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia.