Coronavirus: Zimbabwean Christians Arrested for Holding Outdoor Service

Two members of Zimbabwe's opposition party MDC- Alliance sit in the back of a police truck moments after their arrest outside the party's headquarters in Harare June 5 2020, after Zimbabwe's opposition party MDC- Alliance Vice President Tendai Biti had asked police to allow him access to the building and …
JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP via Getty Images

Police in Zimbabwe have arrested at least two Christians in recent days for violating the country’s Chinese coronavirus gathering ban by holding outdoor church services, the Herald, a Zimbabwean state-owned newspaper, reported Wednesday.

Police in Chitungwiza, a town located on the outskirts of Zimbabwe’s national capital, Harare, arrested and fined two people on July 23 “for leading a Johane Masowe church service at an open space … with approximately 23 members in attendance,” according to the newspaper.

“The Zimbabwe Republic Police warns the public against breaching Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] regulations by holding church services,” Zimbabwe’s national police spokesman, Paul Nyathi, told reporters on Wednesday.

Under Zimbabwe’s current lockdown rules “all public gatherings are banned except for funerals where not more than 30 people are allowed to attend,” according to the Citizen.

Followers of Zimbabwe’s Johane Masowe Church (JMC) “believe Jesus Christ was sent by God to deliver white and Jewish people, whilst their prophets, Masedza, Mudyiwa and Nhamoyebonde, were sent by God to deliver Africans,” according to Scielo South Africa, an open-access online library.

“White people are not allowed to join our church because this church was created specifically for African black people,” a JMC leader identified only as Thomas told South Africa’s MatieMedia news publication in November 2019.

“We don’t believe in using the bible as our main guide either, because when white people colonised Africa and brought Christianity, they altered the [B]ible to suit them. That is why we use the Holy Spirit as guidance instead,” he said.

MatieMedia interviewed Thomas in the South African township of Kayamandi, outside the town of Stellenbosch, where the man and a local group of fellow JMC members had unofficially occupied an open field for worship since 2015.

“Sometimes there are a few drunk people that come and try to cause animosity but we just ask them to leave. People used to play soccer here too but they know now that this is holy ground to us which is also why we don’t wear shoes,” Thomas said.

While JMC originated in Zimbabwe in the mid-20th century, its adherents have since spread to South Africa.

“[S]ometimes we have very big events where people come from Johannesburg [South Africa’s largest city] and Zimbabwe,” Thomas told MatieMedia. “We need to tell the municipality beforehand and then we hire toilets from them for the event.”

Thomas’s reference to JMC encountering unwanted interactions with “drunk people” during worship seemed to echo a remark made by Zimbabwe’s national police spokesman, Paul Nyathi, on July 28.

“Nyathi said criminals were also targeting people [JMC members] holding all-night vigils, especially in secluded places,” the Citizen reported.

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