The Bulawayo City Council says it will not go back on its decision to clamp down on churches that worship in open spaces and would proceed to raid and arrest worshippers because the practice was illegal and a health hazard.
Bulawayo mayor Thaba Moyo said the outcry that followed the move by council and the Environmental Management Authority to clamp down on such worshippers would not deter them.
“No matter what people say, we will not stop enforcing bylaws,” said Moyo. “Laws are laws and they have to be followed.
In any case if we were to buckle to pressure, we would be shooting ourselves in the foot because this thing has health implications.
“This is a city. We are not in a rural area set-up and we cannot have a situation where 100 people gather under a tree and start worshipping for four hours without toilets and potable water.”
The practice was in violation of Bulawayo by-laws of 1975, Protection of Lands and Natural Resources, section 27(b), he said.
Members of Apostolic sects have accused council of seeking to ban their congregations as a way of enticing worshippers from churches to council beer halls.
The worshippers said council was infringing on their constitutional right to freedom of worship. But Moyo, himself a devout Christian, says the local authority would not be deterred.
“People can say what they want but we are enforcing by-laws for the good of the city,” he said.
At a media briefing two weeks ago, the city’s acting director of housing and community services, Mackenzie Nkomo, said they were considering engaging riot police to assist in flushing out mushrooming open-air churches.