251 children rescued at shrine

Police have rescued 251 children used as forced labour from the clutches of a self-styled prophet and leader of Johanne Masowe WeChishanu apostolic sect Ishmael Chokurongerwa, better known as Madzibaba Ishmael.

At least 16 illegal graves, seven of them for infants, have been found, while seven accomplices were arrested together with the prophet.

The children were liberated and the eight were arrested in a major raid last Tuesday on Lily Farm in Nyabira, about 40km north-west of Harare.

A swathe of charges, including abuse of children, have been levelled against Chokurongerwa and his seven accomplices.

Chokurongerwa (56) was arrested with church members Shingirai Ngawafune (42), James Gwenzi (55), Zebedia Sigudu, Devlodge Katsande (45), Aaron Chokurongerwa (47), Wonder Kabaya (41) and Siribinio Chikurunhe (53).

National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said investigations were in progress.

But already police have found that 246 out of the 251 children below the age of 18 years found at the farm had no birth certificates and were being used in child labour, which is illegal in Zimbabwe, for the benefit of the sect’s leadership.

None of the children of school-going age were attending school and all were subject to abuse as cheap labour, doing manual work under the pretext of being taught life skills. Sixteen graves were found at the shrine, nine holding adults, but seven for infants, said Asst Comm Nyathi.

None of these burials were legal. All burials in Zimbabwe have to follow either prior registration with the Registrar-General’s Office in terms of Birth and Death Registration Act or a burial order must be obtained from the police in terms of the Burial and Cremation Act.


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