ROMAN Catholic churches and schools in Bulawayo and Matabeleland South provinces have been hit by a streak of armed robberies.
The latest occurred at the weekend when the suspects pounced on the church’s Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Pumula South suburb and went away with over US$6 000.
The raid occurred shortly after midnight on Saturday after the armed robbers destroyed the alarm system and neutralised the vicious dogs.
Money – Image taken from Pixabay
They destroyed windows before reaching the priest whom they beat up as they demanded money.
The latest attack brings to 20 the total of armed robberies targeted at the church over 12 months. This year alone, the church has been attacked 17 times.
In all the raids, the suspects use almost the same modus operandi, raising strong suspicions that it could be same gang targeting the church.
In executing the crime, the armed robbers use guns, machetes, hammers, bolt-cutters, and knives and in some instances leave their victims tied with pieces of wire.
With no regard for what is considered holy, the robbers do not flinch at beating up priests as they force them to reveal where money is kept.
Church leaders could not disclose how much of “God’s money” the unholy alliance has got away with.
So daring are the armed robbers that one parish, St Peter and Paul in Mpopoma was hit four times on October 5, October 25, and December 2 last year and in January this year. A parish and a school have been raided twice this year already.
On Monday last week, the robbers hit St Bernadette in Bulawayo’s Waterford suburb, with Our Lady of Fatima Parish being hit for the third time.
The robbery spree started early last year when the suspects hit St Andrews Parish in Queenspark suburb before descending on St Padre Pio in Emakhandeni suburb on October 25.
This year, the robbers raided Our Lady of Lourdes in Khumalo suburb on January 29 before moving to St Bernard’s Parish and Primary School in Pumula suburb on February 3.
On April 15 the robbers raided Uganda Martyrs Parish in Luveve. They returned to St Bernard’s and raided the secondary school.
They then moved to Mpopoma suburb where they descended on St Peter and St Paul Parish before moving to Nkulumane and struck Holy Spirit Parish on May 25. They attacked Entumbane Parish — Our Lady Queen of Peace on June 1 before raiding St Adolph in Magwegwe four days later.
On June 8, the robbers attacked Ekusileni primary and secondary schools and Ekusileni Mission all in Filabusi, Matabeleland South province.
The head of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Bulawayo, Archbishop Alex Thomas said the church is worried about the increasing number of robberies targeting their properties.
Archbishop Thomas was not at liberty to disclose the exact amount of money lost during the robberies.
Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi
“The armed robbers have been raiding our churches, and some of them have been hit twice so far. We suspect that the gang involves about eight suspects,” he said.
“Four enter the premises while the other three stand guard outside with another one remaining inside the getaway car. The suspects will be carrying dangerous weapons like guns, bolt cutters, machetes, and hammers among others, which are prohibited weapons.”
Archbishop Thomas said the church has been forced to review the security in its institutions.
He said they had since engaged a private security firm to help in the investigations.
Archbishop Thomas said the robbers are mostly targeting money, laptops and cellphones.
“The reason I think our institutions are being targeted is that people think that the church has money, which is a wrong perception of the past. They see these big buildings and think there is money inside,” he said.
“People have an idea that we receive money from overseas which is false. All our contributions are from the locals, and we do not have rich people in our parishes.”
Archbishop Thomas said all the robberies are happening during the night.
He said this year no parish has been desecrated, but last year two parishes were desecrated by the robbers.
Archbishop Thomas said church employees residing in the institutions are now living in fear of being attacked.
“We need to deal with the social evils which are in society such as drugs and alcohol. Police should target such places and address lawlessness happening in the city because there is now a perception that our policing is very weak in Bulawayo,” he said.
“These thieves are taking advantage of the challenges faced by police such as lack of resources. People are getting fed-up and it will force them to take the law into their own hands because these robberies are also targeting residential houses.”
Archbishop Thomas said in some attacks, the robbers tie their victims with wires and assault them, forcing them to give out information about where money is kept.
“The robbers’ struck again on Saturday at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Pumula South, the third time the church has been hit with the first two robberies occurring last year,” he said.
“This time they totally cut and destroyed the alarm system from all the corners. Somehow, they managed to neutralise the vicious dogs kept there as security.”
Archbishop Thomas said the suspects assaulted the priest and demanded money.
“It is becoming worse by each robbery. Asisalali ebusuku we are just tired of these robberies,” he said
National Police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said he had so far only received the latest case which happened at the weekend in Pumula.
He said investigations are pointing to leakage of information by some people with information of the cash movement in the church.
“The information I have is of the recent case which happened over the weekend at Pumula. Five suspects pounced on the church staff and got away with US$4 855, about R 24 000, P 188 and ZW$14 350,” he said.
“I am still checking the other cases with police.”
Asst Comm Nyathi said police are investigating the matter with a crack team having been established.
“But what is clear is that some of these cases there is leaking of information by members with inside information on how cash received, storage and location. We are conducting investigations and we will work with the church to boost security and to identify the source of the leakage of information to outsiders,” he said.
“We have had one armed robbery case, four robbery cases were other weapons besides guns were used, eight unlawful entry at night by people breaking into the church premises to steal and three cases in Matabeleland South Province. Officer commanding Bulawayo Province has set up special team to look at these cases.”