DEATH in a family is heart-numbing and if there is anything that can be done to prevent it the majority will choose to do that.
However, this is not the case for an Apostolic sect family in Gwambe in Bulilima District, Matabeleland South Province that shuns hospitals.
Despite burying four children in six months, the Mazali family of the Johane Marange sect is adamant that death would rather wipe out the entire clan than have any one of them set foot in a hospital.
The sect that does not recognise immunization and doctor-aided child delivery and advocates polygamy and having as many children as possible. Members-only go to school for primary education so that they can do basic reading and writing.
Seven children survive while three women are pregnant at the composite homestead where the mother-in-law is the midwife for all church members.
While it is believed the children could have died of preventable illnesses, the proof is hard to come by as the family also does not believe in post-mortems.
A glimpse into possible causes of death came about after Chief Kandana, the area’s traditional leader demanded a postmortem following the death of the fourth child on 23 April this year.
First to die was 16-month-old Mthokozisi Ncube in September last year, followed by one-year-old Abednico on March 3 this year, then three-year-old Annabel 13 days later and the latest eight months old Peter who died on April 23.
The children belong to four brothers of the Mazali family who have eight wives and also want nothing to do with hospitals.
The family did not inform the local leaders about the first three deaths as they secretly buried them with church members.
The last child died at a mountain near the homestead during a night vigil where he was taken for prayers as they tried to save his life.
When this failed, it is said the daughters-in-law took the body and dumped it in the mother-in-law’s bedroom, threatening to leave for their respective families saying they were tired of losing their children without action being taken. This forced the mother-in-law to report them to the village head who in turn reported the matter to Chief Kandana who called the police.
The police took the body to Plumtree hospital for post-mortem and the cause of death was diagnosed as “failure to thrive.”
Acting Mpilo Central Hospital chief executive officer Prof Solwayo Ngwenya said:
“Failure to thrive means the child is failing to grow very well. It could be from several sources like malnutrition or chronic illness like HIV and TB. If the child has not been immunised, they will be susceptible to many illnesses. Immunisation is extremely important, before the six killer diseases were tackled a lot of Africans were dying. The initial six jabs contributed to the large African population that we are seeing now.”
Chronicle visited the homestead on Thursday at around 3PM and the family which had just buried the eight-month-old baby had moved on as if nothing had happened.
Eight daughters-in-law with clean-shaven heads, including the one whose child had been buried in the morning, were busy preparing indlubu for cooking.
The three houses at the main homestead and the family’s shabby dressing told a story of poverty and hunger. Some of the daughters-in-law appear underage.
One of them was wearing black “plastic shoes” while the rest walked barefoot.
The eldest son in the family Mr. Siza Ncube (36) who was forced to leave his base in South Africa following the dumping of the toddler’s body at his mother’s bedroom has three wives.
Clad in a blue work suit, the slim and long-bearded man spoke with great conviction in defence of the family’s religion saying nothing, including death, would divert them from their beliefs.
“These deaths are meant to force us to forsake our belief in Johane Marange’s God but we will not be moved, even if it means burying all these children you see here. Our wives are still young and are shaken by this but as their husbands, we will make them understand that this is just part of life,” he said.
“Earthly life is not important. So, we will not risk having our children delivered to hell by taking them to the hospital as it is an evil thing not allowed in our church. When someone is sick, we have our ways of trying to save them but just like when you take someone to the hospital some die and some recover, it is the same with our way. At the end of the day, we will all die, whether young or old we shall all die.
“Our wives have no history of going to hospital from their families so why should they go there now when they are here? They made a mistake by informing the local leadership which resulted in our child being taken to the mortuary for post-mortem. But what did it change?” he asked with a smile.
Mr. Ncube said during his brief time at school, he learned one iSiNdebele saying “Ukwanda kwaliwa ngabathakathi” which he translates to mean that it is witches who kill so that they do not multiply as a family.
“Maybe someone in polygamy can talk at my level because we have something in common on the need to increase but you with one wife what can you tell me?” he asked.
Mr. Ncube said when there is death in the family, they just call their church members and bury their dead without wasting time or making much noise about it.
He said a lot of people have visited the homestead to try and convince them to vaccinate the children without success.
“I know you talk about rights, but Government cannot tell us how to raise our children. They cannot force us to take them to the hospital because it will not happen. They are our children and if they die it’s us who lose, not the Government,” he said.
Mr. Ncube said their beliefs even allow men to “lovingly” discipline their wives and they will not dare report to the police as they want their marriages to work.
Mrs. Pearcy Ncube, the family matriarch who is in her 80s is the midwife for the church and delivers all the babies.
“Our members who are pregnant do not go to deliver at the hospital. This home is the maternity hospital for the church. I have delivered many babies over the years. I have trained two of my daughters-in-law to deliver so that even when I die, they will be able to continue with my work,” said Mrs. Ncube.
She said while she has delivered many babies successfully, she has lost others and their mothers during delivery.
Mrs. Ncube said the church treats maternity death just like any other death and when the time has come for one to die it does not consider that one is delivering a life.
“We do everything by our own standards that we were taught in church. There is no need to inform authorities, we follow our traditions.
Some have said I must stop this because it is dangerous but I cannot stop it because it is a calling,” she said.
Village head Bunyonyo said:
“They do everything by themselves and they never bother to inform us as local leaders. Just a handful of community members attended the recent burial because they never seem to engage the public. The wife who lost a child now is the one also who lost a baby in September last year. She is now childless.”
She said the Apostolic sect members prepared the grave and did everything ignoring her position which is not the norm with other funerals in her community.
The leaders said the church does not also accept contributions like money or food during their funerals.
“Their beliefs are very strange and it is difficult for us to understand them. Our wish is for them to take their children to hospital and that their wives deliver at a hospital, then once the children reach 18 years they could choose which way they want to go in terms of their religious beliefs,” she said.
The village head said the community fears that the members could be having transmittable diseases which they may pass to their children.
“They send their children to school. What if they have diseases that can be transmitted to other pupils and teachers? The whole community will be affected. Authorities must take action before it is too late,” she said.
The village head said the church has other branches in Ngwana and Bhagane villages and Plumtree town in the same district which suggests that the problem could be widespread.
The village health worker for Gwambe Two, Mrs. Meeting Tjangule said she has compiled several reports to her superiors about the situation.
“They only allow us to register their children when born and have managed to get the birth certificates. There are seven children under five years old left but three of the women are pregnant,” said Mrs. Tjangule.
She said the husbands are based in South Africa where they could be having other wives as well since their church allows them to do so.
Mrs. Tjangule said another child died a few years back but the community started raising alarm following the recent successive deaths.
Said Chief Kandana:
“I am the one who ordered that police be brought in because we cannot have such a situation in a community at a time of so many diseases like Covid-19 and others. As leadership, we always encourage people to go to the hospital when they are not well. We might be forced to ban the church if it does not take into consideration the health of the community. The members will be free to move to an area that will tolerate this. People have rights but if those rights expose the majority to risk surely, we cannot be blamed for taking action.”
President of the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe Dr. Johannes Ndanga agreed in the past with the leadership of the Johane Marange Church on hospitalisation but recent fights in the organisation affected the agreement.
“That culture has resulted in many graves in one home as these people are also into polygamy and have many children. But God is the one who gave the wisdom to our doctors to come up with immunisation and medication which has saved many lives.
“There is a need for transformation since we have so many communicable diseases which can result in one person killing many people. The church leadership must think about this so that they consider the times we are living in. This is not the time to live in isolation,” said Dr. Ndanga.
He said police should arrest such people because they are a danger not only to themselves but to society.
Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission chairperson Dr. Elasto Mugwadi said the issue was a serious violation of the children’s fundamental rights to access to health and to life.
He said his organisation would send staff to educate the family and the whole community about human rights.
Matabeleland South police spokesperson Inspector Loveness Mangena confirmed that police were called in and took the body to Plumtree hospital for post-mortem.
She said police can only intervene if post-mortem results establish a criminal offence. – Chronicle