At midday, under a clear sky, hundreds of anxious Johane Masowe Vadzidzi VaJesu Church members were milling around Mudzidzi Wimbo’s homestead in Madziva’s Mutumba village.
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The atmosphere last Thursday was tense and emotions ran high as the white-garmented worshippers anxiously waited to set their eyes on their leader Aaron Mhukuta Gomo (94), popularly known as Mudzidzi Wimbo for the first time in a year following his alleged abduction by church zealots.
The nonagenarian has been held at the shrine against his will for over a year now.
Male worshippers looked restless as they paced up and down the homestead, waiting for the arrival of a Cabinet committee appointed by President Robert Mugabe on July 8 to deal with the matter.
Visibly stressed women sat around the compound and occasionally broke into a hymn “Tinunureiwo tinunureiwo baba vedenga, tinunureiwo tinunureiwo tatambudzika. [God help us, we have suffered enough.”]
The unending church dispute has already claimed a life and several victims were left nursing injuries.
“The ministers have come, they are at the shrine. They have sent some emissaries and they want us to go to the shrine,” one family member told Wimbo’s son, Abenaishen Gomo, who is the village head.
However, Gomo was not amused by the ministers’ approach.
“We will not go there. Our father has a home, and this is his home. They should bring him here. Go and tell them we are not coming,” Abenaishen retorted.
His position was immediately adopted by the whole family in a brief closed door meeting with Mashonaland Central Provincial Affairs minister Martin Dinha, who led the emissaries that included members of the senior Central Intelligence Organisation and police officers as well as other government officials.
Dinha soon left the homestead and headed back to the shrine to deliver the message, leaving Wimbo’s family with high hopes.
Time passed by, and with it the Gomo family’s hopes.
At exactly 2:38pm, a convoy of cars rolled down into the homestead. First to come out was Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo, followed by State Security minister Kembo Mohadi, Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi and Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere, who also serves as Zanu PF’s political commissar.
They were led into another closed door meeting with selected family and church members.
An hour later, the meeting ended and the ministers stormed out of the house, heading to their cars, but before they left there was a heart-breaking scene.
Wimbo’s daughters and some female congregants broke into tears,wailing loudly as they pleaded with the ministers to bring their father home.
“Are you sure you are leaving before we see our father?” one of the women cried.
The scene resembled a funeral.
The Cabinet committee had failed to bring the warring church factions together and resorted to holding separate meetings.
Wimbo is staying with his fourth wife, Jester Mhukuta at the shrine.
He doesn’t have a child with Jester, but has three with his first wife, Emma, eight with his second wife Ennessiah and nine with the third wife Letty.
Of his 20 living children, 13 are male.
Conflicting accounts of what led to the abduction of Wimbo, also known in religious circles as Mudzidzi Majinesta, have been given.
During one of the meetings, being a journalist and thirsty for information, I positioned myself below an open window of the house in which the deliberations with Mugabe’s committee were taking place to get a first-hand account.
Although the version would be one-sided after efforts to get into the shrine where Wimbo is held were frustrated by armed security manning the entrance, there was no better opportunity than this.
One of the church members and a relative of the Gomo family, Obenesia told the Cabinet Committee that the problem started when the church zealots, who included Ishumael Magodi, Zex Pamacheche, Shephard Chingwena and Edison Mukuhwa introduced a Chinese herbal programme, Tians, in the church against the congregation’s doctrine which prohibits use of herbs.
The four, Obenesia said, were not related to the Gomo family, but joined the church in the 1980s after being healed of mental sickness.
“A lot of people came for healing and went back to their original homes. Some of them, including those who are now giving us problems, came as mentally sick people and were treated,” Obenesia said.
“After being healed, they were incorporated into the Gomo family on compassionate grounds. They were even assisted to marry their wives. This included the full payment of lobola.”
He added: “The church members who were incorporated into the family became closer to our father on religious issues to the extent that they now feel that they are more superior to the Gomo family, including our father. Their greediness has resulted in the problems we have today.
“The problem then started when they killed Jacob Zifungo in 2014, a prophet from Gwanda accusing him of resisting their decision to introduce Chinese herbs under the Tians programme.
“They wanted to punish him at Zvisokwe River but he accidentally died in the process. They were arrested, and are on remand and terrorising people at the shrine.
“After the incident, the Gomo family, church members and local traditional leaders agreed to send them back where they had come from because we could not stay with murderers.
“That we did but after a few months, they came back and abducted our father and took him to the shrine under the guise that they were taking him to his Chihuri family for a visit.”
They also accused the church zealots of misappropriating over $120 000 raised by the church to buy a new Mercedes Benz vehicle for Wimbo.
Obenesia said the family members have been denied access to their father ever since his abduction.
Efforts to free him by one of his sons, Gadjwet Gomo, who is a police chief superintendent, turned bloody as he was attacked and left for dead.
His sister Spentula was also bashed when she led a group of Wimbo’s daughters in an attempt to rescue Gadjwet.
Wimbo’s first wife was also beaten up.
A boomgate has been erected at the entrance to the shrine so that Gadjwet, Abinaishen and Wimbo’s other son, a professor of Immunology, Exnevia could not access their father.
They have allegedly been doing this with the help of the military, who have now established a camp in the area.
“Taking advantage of our father’s age and illness, they have now manipulated the church’s constitution to give themselves power over the family and church property. They have taken vehicles and other gadgets and threaten to come for the remaining property that includes tractors at the farm in Mt Darwin.”
The church dispute has since taken a political angle.
Apart from being a church leader, Wimbo had a political role dating back to the liberation struggle, his son Abinaishen said.
He is famed for his 1957 prophecy where he predicted that a man with the name of an angel Gabriel would be independent Zimbabwe’s first leader, which came to pass in 1980.
The Gomo family and most of the church’s followers are staunch Zanu PF supporters, with 17 Gomo family members in the Zanu PF district structures and 20 in the branches.
“In fact, people here support Zanu PF and if you are labelled Gammatox or MDC supporters, it spells doom,” Abinaishen said.
He said Pamacheche and his gang were now riding on Zanu PF to terrorise the Gomo family and church members.
“They abuse Zanu PF’s name to destroy our reputation and instil fear on church members and the community,” he said.
“They have persecuted the whole family, labelling them MDC members, Gammatox and so on. Gomo family members have been summoned to CIO offices several times to answer these charges.”
Pamacheche once contested against former Labour minister Nicholas Goche for a parliamentary seat.
The Gomo family openly told the Cabinet committee that their biggest problem was the soldiers who have set up base in the area and were terrorising people on behalf of Pamacheche and his gang.
“We want to know who deployed them here. They are always firing guns in the air to intimidate us. They assaulted Mudzidzi’s son [Gadjwet] and are always in the shrine, sometimes in uniform,” a Gomo neighbour and church member only identified as Siziba said.
Some family members who refused to be identified said Pamacheche and gang had sought the help of the military, and they claimed the Zanu PF succession problems had infiltrated the church.
They alleged that following Wimbo’s Mugabe prophecy, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa was frequenting the place.
“When the problem started, we tried all we could, including visiting Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office to have our father released but it has not helped,” said another family member.
“Instead, VP Mnangagwa came to the shrine and did not order his release, which to us was an endorsement of his abduction.”
Mnangagwa once visited the shrine but was reportedly given a cryptic prophesy by Wimbo that he needed help, that “alone, he would not manage it.”
G40 — Mnangagwa’s rival faction — is also said to be demanding the release of Wimbo from the shrine fearing he could ordain Mnangagwa.
The family members said they hold Brigadier General Douglas Nyikayaramba — a chief of staff in the army — responsible for the heavy military presence.
“He has actually married one of the daughters of the four who abducted our father,” another family member said.
“Nyikayaramba told the president on July 8 that he does not know how those soldiers came, but we have evidence that he is commanding them.”
Another source said: “When the Cabinet committee came, they wanted to bring Mudzidzi Wimbo home, but Nyikayaramba, who was at the shrine, reportedly refused.”
“Literally, the church has split into two: those worshipping at the Gorongoza [shrine] and those conducting their prayers at the Kirau [home],” Abinaishen said.