By Mthulisi Mathuthu
Public resentment against the authorities has been laid bare after Zimbabweans openly celebrated the beating of police officers and state journalists by members of the Johane Masowe yeChishanu church last Friday.
The fight happened when the President of the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe, Johannes Ndanga, told hundreds of the sect members at their holy shrine that he had banned the church for abuse of women and girls. He was in the company of 20 anti-riot police.
But members of the Masowe sect reacted angrily to the bid to shut down their church and assaulted the anti-riot police. Pictures showed bloodied police officers and ZBC journalists fleeing, while others lay helplessly on the ground as the bald headed worshippers beat them with their shepherd’s staffs.
At least 25 members of the Masowe sect have been arrested so far with some of them having appeared in court Monday, where they were remanded in custody.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum suggested the police may have erred by invading the shrine, saying the Budiriro incident may have been prompted by political interests of the elite who want to use the various sects against each other for political gain.
Allegations against the sect have been reported for some time, but have always been ignored by the authorities. Many ZANU PF officials, including President Robert Mugabe, have previously attended the Masowe sermons in clear attempts to entrench their political hold, leading to the belief that the sect was untouchable.
The fight on Friday generated huge public interest as Zimbabweans applauded the Masowe members for giving the police a taste of their own medicine. A NewsDay editorial said the Budiriro incident was a case of the ZANU PF government’s ‘multitude of followers’ turning against their masters.
Across the globe Zimbabweans took to the internet to express their joy at the cops’ fate. The social media was awash with images of the fight, while a video lampooning the police went viral within hours.
Harare-based SW Radio Africa correspondent Simon Muchemwa said the video was a ‘free weekend present’ for many residents who openly shared it and danced to the music. Muchemwa said by choosing to celebrate the bashing of the police, instead of sympathizing with the alleged victims of the Masowe sect, the public demonstrated the extent of the resentment against the government.
Muchemwa said that even as some of the members of the Masowe sect appeared in court Monday it was clear that public sympathy lay with them. He said ‘everywhere’ the sect members are seen as ‘brave heroes.’
Political analyst Itai Dzamara said: ‘It is unfortunate that the issue of the violation of women and children has been overshadowed by the bashing of the police. But it is indicative of the widespread hatred for the police in the country. The police routinely abuse people and so the people are very happy that they have also been bashed.’
The police in Zimbabwe routinely react with heavy handedness to public attempts at free expression as they clamp down on demonstrations, rallies and discussion meetings. Traffic cops also force people to pay bribes and spot fines for cooked-up offences, doing so with apparent government blessing.
Last week SW Radio Africa reported on a senior government official who pleaded with the national tax collector to allow the police to continue their unaccountable revenue collection through spot fines, in what observers say was open endorsement of corruption. SW Radio Africa