Hell breaks loose at contested Church stand in St. Marys.

Photo: The contested ground with the church tent in foreground and partially demolished home of ZANU PF youth in background

Hell broke loose at a contested open space claimed to be a Church Stand by members of the Prophetic Revival Ministries and a housing stand by ZANU PF youths located besides St. Marys road in Ward 1 of St. Marys township on Sunday 02 October 2016. A visibly intoxicated group of ZANU PF youths led by Wilbert Jonga invaded the ‘church stand’ and destroyed the tent sheltering congregants- attempting to forcibly evict them while a church service was in progress.

Serious clashes erupted when the churchmen fought back, engaging the party youths in fist-cuffs and wrestling matches which lasted for several minutes before subsiding as both groups fought each other to a stand-still. The drama attracted a sizable group of onlookers from the densely populated CA section which included women, children and patrons of the nearby Katanga Beerhall. More drama was to follow when the youths upon realizing that the church men outnumbered them and were no pushover- changed tactics and started singing intimidating revolutionary songs supported by drumbeating, toyi-toying and chanting of party slogans. The christian sect was momentarily stunned into silence until an old woman churchgoer came to their rescue by singing the popular church hymn, ‘ Jesu Idombo’. From that moment, the momentum shifted in favour of the ‘Men of God’ whose singing and dancing grew louder and was more choreographed than that of their opponents attracting the support of some bystanders who volunteered to join them in the singing contest.

As if to outmaneuver their opponents, the youths started marching around the stand while singing and toyi-toying. In response, the churchgoers knelt down and prayed loudly for divine intervention with arms raised to the skies. Their prayers were answered after the youths had marched several times around the stand and withdrew to deliberate the way forward amongst themselves. The stand off ended with the youths vowing to shed blood in defence of their right to housing. As they retreated from the church stand, they threatened the church members with personal reprisals and branded them sellouts and opposition activists.

Bystanders who witnessed the drama blamed the Chitungwiza Municipality for corruption and cronyism leading to haphazard and double land allocations. Interestingly, people residing near the contested ground claimed that it was unsuitable for development and habitation as it was reserved for sewer mains which ran underground. The neighbours shed more light on the dispute, saying the church was the first to erect their tent on the ground some six months back before the ZANU PF youths came and self-allocated the remaining portions of land adjacent to the church stand. The dispute only arose when youth members who came after the first group and had not been allocated land came up with the idea of evicting the church men to create stands for themselves about a month ago. They approached the church’s pastor and leadership with a letter purportedly from the ZANU PF National youth league commissariat giving them permission to identify and settle on idle land. The churchmen showed them their own offer letters from the Chitungwiza Municipality. One of the youths constructed a two roomed brick house at the corner of the contested stand and it was partially demolished last Sunday when the church men met for Sunday service. The youths retaliated during the week and razed the tent to the ground only for it to be re-erected by the churchgoers at the end of the week. The tit-for-tat actions culminated in the showdown on Sunday. If the neighbours are to be believed- the drama is to be continued.