By Veronica Gwaze
Robert Martin Gumbura heavily divided opinion in life and continues doing so in death. He died of Covid-19-relatied complications at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison aged 65 while serving time for raping several women.
He was jailed in 2014 and was initially sentenced to 50 years in prison, 10 of which were suspended on condition of good behaviour.
Part of his sentence also included a conviction of being found in possession of pornographic material.
However, while some people couldn’t care less about his demise, family, friends and congregants still maintained he was wrongly convicted.
They all claim he was an upright man.
Up until his untimely death, they still hoped his bid for freedom would be granted, as he was appealing against both conviction and sentence.
To them, the clergyman was a “victim of some complicated conspiracy”.
Last year, Gumbura’s sentence was slashed to 20 years after a series of appeals made through the High Court.
And by the time of his death, the RGM Independent End Time Messages Church founder had served nearly half of his reviewed sentence.
“His death came as a shock. We were never told that he was sick and up to now we are still trying to come to terms with the fact that he is no more.
“We are grieving, a lot is happening and I will be able to give you more details in due course when things hopefully settle,” the late Gumbura’s second wife and family spokesperson, Queen Bunga, told The Sunday Mail Society.
His brother, Innocent Gumbura, was equally distraught.
“We got a call from prison officials the night before his (Gumbura) death, asking us to bring some medication for him. Unfortunately, when we delivered the items the following morning, he was already dead.
“I am still confused to say the least. They should have told us in time that he was not well or at least allowed us to conduct a postmortem to ascertain the cause of death,” he said.
Gumbura’s death has naturally led to growing questions on the fate of his 11 wives, 33 children, church and various businesses and properties he left behind.
His first born is 38-years-old, while the last is aged eight.
The total number of assets is yet to be ascertained but includes 11 houses, several church buildings, a mine, farm and a fleet of more than 20 vehicles.
Nothing has been distributed yet.
“The family is still collecting all his personal belongings from his various homes around the country, bringing them to his Harare residence. Likewise, we have asked all the wives to temporarily move to Harare so that we do things as a family at once.
“It is hectic, we are conducting a lot of meetings to set up a Trust then we go on to register his estate,” said Innocent.
Gumbura’s wives, he added, are still united despite their husband’s death.
“Everyone is at the 25-bedroomed Marlborough home where we are mapping the way forward.”
According to Gumbura’s brother, all the wives have vowed not to marry again.
“It is us the siblings who seem worried, but the wives are fine, they are united and they stand together as they have always done. They have vowed that they are not going anywhere.”
However, before passing on, Gumbura told The Sunday Mail Society that he did not mind if his wives decided to move on.
“By the time I leave this place, I will be very old, so I cannot be selfish to force them to wait for me; they are free to remarry if they wish,” he said then.
The family survives largely on their farm produce and proceeds from the mine and church.
The farm is presently being run by the second wife.
There are indications, however, that his church did not have a succession plan.
Apart from the late businessman-cum clergyman’s wives and children, there are at least 50 people, including poor church members, the homeless and orphans, living at the Harare house.
Their fate and future is now uncertain.
“In total, there are about 92 people living there (Marlborough) and we are not related to them, so we have told them to leave because we do not have the capacity to take care of them.
“My brother had a big heart; even in prison, he continued to care for these people, so he would simply give us instructions and we followed. We even paid bail for some people he would have met in prison; that is the type of person he was.
“He paid school fees for many kids whom we are not related to and even provided for a lot of families . . . but if indeed he was a rapist, why would those people want to stay with him? Who wants to be associated with a rapist?” he queried.
But Gumbura’s brother believes he was a “problem child” before he converted.
Born second in a family of seven, the late clergyman was said to have been the naughtiest child in the family.
He was into all sorts of drugs.
“He was infamous for doing drugs. It was not a secret. But he was not into girlfriends. I do not remember him having any girlfriends, except for Tafadzwa, who later became his first wife. Up to now I do not believe he raped anyone,” said Innocent.
Gumbura spent his early childhood in Gweru before moving to Highfield in Harare, where his parents had bought a house.
However, around 1980, after completing his Advanced Level at Highfield High School, he converted to Christianity, much to the surprise of his family and those who knew him.
He joined the Baptist Church before moving to End Time Messages.
During that time, he enrolled at a local teachers’ college where he studied towards a Diploma in Education.
After graduating, he went on to teach at Regina Mundi, Ascot and Mambo High Schools.
“(Regina) Mundi was a girls’ school but we never got any reports or accusations about girls or women . . . He was, in fact, a good history teacher with a brilliant photographic memory. Once he met someone, he would never forget them,” reminisces the brother.
Phillip, who was Gumbura’s friend, described the late as a jovial and witty character who always left the congregation in stitches during his sermons.
He recalls the several visits in prison when they would talk and laugh endlessly.
“He was always bubbly. It was as if he was not in prison or that he had accepted his predicament,” he said.
During the late 1980s, Gumbura, who was still under End Time Messages as a senior member, began preaching about polygamy.
This created a lot of enemies for him.
As a result, he formed a breakaway church in the early 90s and named it RMG Independent End Time Messages Church.
Within three years, the church had more than four branches around the country and over 2000 congregants.
Despite his family trying to talk to him out of it, he remained adamant and went on to establish more branches beyond borders.
But around 1994, he found himself in trouble with the law.
“There were three guys in his church who worked for a local bank and they got involved in some scandal at their workplace,” revealed the brother.
“They got away with large sums of money and used part of it to pay tithes of about US$60 000.”
During investigations at the bank, it was discovered that some of the money had been paid to RMG Independent End Time Messages Church, leading to Gumbura’s arrest.
He appeared in court but was later acquitted after it was discovered that he was not connected to the theft.
But, as if fate wanted him to spend the last part of his life in prison, a few years later he found himself in the dock again.
A man (name withheld) dragged him to court for allegedly having an extramarital affair with his wife.
Due to lack of evidence, the case was dismissed.
In 2014, he hogged the limelight again charged with more than five counts of rape.
“There were a lot of enemies in his life, so when he was arrested, this time we did not panic, thinking it was a setup and he would soon be acquitted.”
The family believes Gumbura was a victim of an elaborate plot by his enemies.
“At some point they also arrested me on accusations that I was interfering with witnesses… I had no knowledge about it. Further, I was not even part of his church, so I would not know any of them.
“I also went through the documents on charges of pornography and could not pair any one of the said ladies with him; it was photoshop,” he argued.
According to Innocent, three ladies who implicated him later approached the family, confessing that they had been paid to incriminate him.
“The ladies confirmed to us that this issue involved some high-profile people who were within former president Mugabe’s Government and they were using some members from his previous and new church.
“My brother was simply hated for his work and they wanted to take his wealth, but I believe he is in a better place now because he went through a lot.” The Sunday Mail