A clash is looming between the Johane Marange apostolic sect and the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare which plans to invoke provisions of the Public Health Act, to enforce immunisation against child killer diseases among sect members following a measles outbreak that has killed 54 children.
The church argued that the immunisation was an infringement of their constitutional rights to freedom of religion and was prepared to go to court to protect their religious beliefs.
The church, like any other apostolic sect, believes in spiritual healing and prohibits its members from seeking medical assistance.
An elder in the church, Chief Mbaimbai Chiduku from Rusape, where the highest deaths were recorded, said there was a sinister plot by the Health ministry and some non-governmental organisations to destroy their religious values.
Chiduku, who is also a senator, denied assertions this week by Unicef country representative, Peter Salama, that 98% of the children who died were from apostolic sects throughout the country.
With an estimated 1,5 million members countrywide, Chiduku said the church was founded in 1917 and had long devised methods of healing the child killer diseases without the involvement of medical institutions.
“If you come to my home area you will find that more immunised children died than those belonging to the church, who were saved by our quarantine method and spiritual healing.”
Chiduku said the sect would not bow to enforced immunisation and would fight to the bitter end to preserve its religion.
“The main problem is that some in the ministry and in the NGO sector think we are backward and illiterate. They forget that our membership is drawn from various professions and that we are cognisant of health issues,” Chiduku said.
“We are not going to watch and see our constitutional rights to freedom of religion, worship and conscience violated. I was born in 1949 and I have never been to any medical institution for treatment why should that happen in 2010 to my children.
He said the ministry had over the years blamed the sect on health calamities that befall the country to cover-up its incapacity to deal with disasters.
The recent cholera outbreak that claimed over 4 000 lives, Chiduku argued, was blamed on the sect when “it killed the majority of people in Budiriro and other townships throughout the country who had no link with the church”.