HARARE magistrates’ regional court number 16, where condemned man of cloth and leader of the RMG End Time Message Church Robert Martin Gumbura (57) was sentenced to an effective 40-year jail term, was filled to capacity yesterday.
REPORT BY ROPAFADZO MAPIMHIDZE
The matter, which attracted hundreds of people from across all social strata including law-enforcement agents, gender activists, a legislator and ordinary people, has been described as one of the worst sexual abuse cases involving a church leader in the country.
Many people jostled to catch a glimpse of Gumbura or his 11 young wives who had come to attend the court proceedings. Hordes of people who failed to secure a seat in the courtroom could be seen milling around outside the court building, waiting to hear the sentence.
Some journalists who had come to cover the event sat on a table to give way to the multitudes from all walks of life that wanted to see Gumbura, who was clad in prison garb in the dock.
When Gumbura eventually walked into the court, in the company of prison officials, he gave a glance three times at his 11 wives who were seated on two front rows in the packed courtroom.
He then scanned the room as if looking for someone before he darted his eyes at his lawyer, Rekai Maposa, giving her a cynical grin.
Gumbura’s stone-faced wives sat quietly, listening as regional magistrate Hosea Mujaya read out the long judgment.
It came out during trial that some congregants feared leaving Gumbura’s church as anyone that spoke against the disgraced cleric would be cursed and placed in the hands of the devil.
A young congregant with Gumbura’s church who refused to be identified was all smiles and said: “We know of so many people that died after he had cursed them and hence the reason why it was difficult for us to leave this church. We thank God we are free from the hands of this cult and we know that many more cases will start surfacing.”
A Spoken Word Ministries pastor James Gwatidzo, who attended court proceedings from day one, said that this case should send the correct signal to other “men of the cloth” who were sexually abusing their congregants.
In an interview with NewsDay, the investigating officer in the matter Chief Superintendent Ndabezinhle Moyo described the case as one of the most difficult assignments he had ever undertaken as a police officer.
“It was a complex case because the tapes I watched on Gumbura’s sermons clearly demonstrated an intense, classical conditioning of the mind to the extent that his congregants believed that he was a representative of God. I am relieved this is over,” Moyo said.
Gender activist Teverai Nhapi, who unravelled the Gumbura case, said she was working on more of these “cults like” activities in all churches around the country.
“There is a big gap between identification of such cases and economic empowerment of these women. We are currently working on yet another case of a parent, a congregant of Gumbura’s church, who donated their underage daughter to this church,” Nhapi said.
Another woman, Tabeth Gamanya, said her niece was also donated to a church leader in Kwekwe, who belongs to Gumbura’s church against her mother’s will.
“This is a girl doing Grade 4 and I spoke with my niece not so long ago who expressed that she did not wish to live with this man. It baffles me to imagine how a father can just let off his daughter to someone under the guise of a church. These people must be arrested. I and her mother will not rest until she is released,” she said.