BY Clayton Masekesa
MUTARE – The Johanne Marange Apostolic Church in Marange, which is reeling under massive pressure from local and international human rights activists and organizations after a 14 year old girl died giving birth at the church’s shrine recently, has opened up by emphasizing that it is a law abiding religious sect that condemns child marriages.
The church’s remarks comes after some disturbing reports of a 14-year-old girl – Anna Machaya – died recently while giving birth at the church’s shrine in Bocha, Marange.
The mother, Shylett Mabika was allegedly denied access to her when she was giving birth and after she died. Mabika was also denied access to the burial of her daughter.
Machaya was allegedly denied medical assistance, as the apostolic sect prohibits its members from receiving any form of medication.
She finally succumbed to complications from the incident.
The alleged husband to Machaya – Hatirarami Momberume – has appeared at Mutare Magistrate Court where he is facing two counts of rape and murder.
Momberume, also known as Evans Momberume, recently appeared before magistrate Lucy Mungwari, who denied him bail and remanded him in custody to September 3.
In an interview with this publication on Wednesday, the Johanne Marange Apostolic church spokesperson, Nyasha Marange, said the church regretted the incident describing it as ‘unfortunate.’
“First of all, we are sorry of the incident and it was so unfortunate. But, we want to make it clear that our church abides and respects the laws of our government,” said Marange.
“Our leader, High Priest Noah Taguta and the followers of the church, we all respect the laws that govern Zimbabwe. We have high respect to our government and as a church we also have our ownlaws that clearly state that girls under the age of 18 must not be married,” said the church’s spokesperson.
Marange said the leader of the church, Noah Taguta Momberume, has always been urging and advising his priests to preach the word against child marriages in all their preaching sermons.
“We make it a point that in every preaching sermon, our priests always preach the word against child marriages. It is one of our church doctrines that are against the practise of child marriages,” he said.
He said the case of Machaya was an ‘isolated case.’
“This was an individual case that must be separated from the church. Yes, our church is very big and there are such elements within the church. We accept that there are rogue elements within the church who might be practising child marriages and the church will deal with such cases accordingly,” Marange said.
“When we heard that Evans (Hatirarami) was wanted by the police, we actually handed him over to the police. The police have the duty to make investigations and arrest. The courts have their duty to prosecute and sentence if one is found on the wrong side of the law. We hope that the police and the courts will do their jobs,” he said.
Marange said the church will also act accordingly against Momberume.
“As a church we are going to have a disciplinary action against him. We have measures that we are going to take and this will be after the court case,” he said.
Commenting on the issue of the late Machaya not receiving medical attention and being buried at the church shrine, Marange said:
“There is freedom of worship. As Johanne Marange Apostolic Church we do not go to hospital to receive any medication. We have prophets who use our holy water and prayers. This has been happening from way back. So there is nothing amiss regarding that,” he said.
“We have trained midwives within our church. They have been helping a lot of church members in delivering. It is all the same in hospitals, there are also cases where some people die while giving birth. Nobody ants anyone to die and the issue of death is God’s will,” explained Marange.
He said there were no graves at the church shrine.
“This has been hearsay. It is unfortunate that there is misinformation regarding the issue of graves at our shrine. There are only few graves at the shrine that belong to the previous owner of the land where the shrine is located. We only meet for three to four days having our church meetings,” he added.
The church spokesperson said the church has now putting measures that at will see that such cases of child marriage do not continue in the church.
“We are putting the message right across the church members all over the world that we condemn child marriages. Everyone who will be caught on the wrong side will face the full wrath of the government law. The church will not support anyone who will be caught practising child marriage,” he said.
“Our church elders and priests will be monitoring if there will be any acts of child marriage. We will continue preaching against any practices of child marriage,” Marange said.
Other apostolic churches in Zimbabwe have condemned the acts of child marriages in Zimbabwe.
Popular prophet and leader of Johanne The Fifth of Africa International Church, Andby Makururu, said he is willing to meet Noah Taguta to discuss ways of curbing rampant child marriages within his big sect.
Makururu who is a child rights defender said it imperative for some churches to support child rights.
“It is very important that l should meet and talk with the Bishop of that church (Noah Taguta) so that we can discuss this important issue,” said Makururu.
“My church is complementing government’s and other organization’s efforts in fighting child marriages. I want to meet the leader of the church because he is the one who is able to control the members from his church,” said the popular prophet.
Makururu said Taguta was the only person who can change the church’s doctrine regarding child marriages in his church.
“He is the only responsible person who can change the doctrine of the church,” he said.
The 14-year-old’s death caused pervasive fury from Zimbabweans and the international community, with girls’ rights organizations calling for quick action to protect teenage girls from sexual predators.
Zimbabwe’s constitutional court bans marriage under the age of 18.