Controversy surrounds Zimbabwe shrine leader amid allegations of child labor and abuse

Controversy surrounds Zimbabwe shrine leader amid allegations of child labor and abuse

In Zimbabwe, over half of children are still not registered at birth. The unregistered children are particularly vulnerable to abuse, and they are denied access to basic social services.

Recently, the leader of the Johane Masowe religious sect, 56-year-old Madzibaba Ishmael Chokurongerwa, was denied bail on Tuesday, March 19 after being arrested last week for suspected child abuse. All eight suspects will remain in custody until April 4, when the next hearing is scheduled.

Madzibaba Ishmael, from Nyabira, established a settlement resembling the biblical Canaan. Beyond its walls, children as young as eight years old are reportedly shouldering the burden of hard labor. Police found 251 school-age children working on his farm, as well as 16 unregistered graves.

Since the shrine’s establishment in 2022, Madzibaba Ishmael is alleged to have instructed his followers to disregard mainstream education and isolate themselves. This includes prohibiting children from attending school and forcing them to work within the compound, which violates Zimbabwean law. Section 11 of the Labour Act prohibits employing individuals under the age of 16.

Madzibaba Ishmael, who clashed violently with law enforcement agencies in 2014 in Budiriro, has created a cult following at his Nyabira compound. Shylon Mutyambizi, one of the church leaders, said Madzibaba Ishmael is being victimized by the law enforcement agents.

“We went to formal school but it did not work. My religious beliefs prohibit us from working for someone. The word through Madzibaba Ishmael told us to do that, and my children will never attend formal schools. This is enough for them. Regarding the arrest of the prophet, someone is tarnishing the reputation of our leader,” said Mutyambizi.

On another note, there is a developing story surrounding the mysterious death of UZ Professor Itai Muwati. It took a dramatic turn as a relative alleged that he was buried alive on Madzibaba Ishmael’s command. Prof Itai Muwati died two years ago after visiting the shrine in Nyabira, and the police have been keeping the postmortem results, only to hand them over to his family on Monday.

The prosecution further alleges that since 2019, Madzibaba Ishmael and others have neglected, abandoned, and exposed their children to various illnesses, causing them unnecessary suffering.

Charmaine Brown

Charmaine Brown is 27 years old, media personnel. She studied Media and Society Studies (2017-2020) at Midlands State University in Zimbabwe. Charmaine had an internship at The Herald and presently is the Editor for My Afrika Magazine. She currently lives in Harare.

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