Vapostori attacking Cops in Budiriro (photo: Newsday)

Vapostori attacking Cops in Budiriro (photo: Newsday)

Barely a month after the ugly scenes of Vapostori violence rocked Harare’s Budiriro suburb, it has emerged in yet another disturbing development that H.I.V positive members of Vapostori sect are shunning use of the life-saving antiretroviral drugs(ARVs) opting, instead, for faith healing.

The regrettable incident of last month, precipitated by an attempt to ban the Vapostori sect led by fugitive Madzibaba Ishmael, proved fatal as resistive violence broke. The Vapostori sect members descended ruthlessly on police officers in an act which later drew the wrath of the law. It is always lamentable when a dark shadow has to be cast on religion as a result of the malpractices of a few cults. SAFAIDS head of Communication and Knowledge Management, Tariro Chikumbirike-Makanga, highlighted that HIV and AIDS have not spared any sector of the society-rich or poor. Even the Vapostori are hard hit, more so with their commonly polygamous doctrines.

However, it should be noted that not all Vapostori sects fall into this category. Zimbabwe is found amongst Southern African countries with high HIV prevalence yet members living with H.I.V in these local religious groups are being prevented from taking the revolutionary drugs. As a consequence, members in the sects are dying early as they are being treated via the incredulous route of water and stones. It is even suicidal that sect members are reportedly being asked to stop taking their medication at some point after beginning the therapy. Stopping of anti-retroviral therapy once it has begun is akin to pulling the trigger of a loaded gun in one’s mouth.

Religion is something that all great figures of history upheld and extolled. It is universal to all sane beings and gives meaning to life. It would only be myopic to try and cast blame on faith or religion in light of the Vapostori conduct. It is without doubt that God heals any ailment in his creation yet it is vital that faith is not misplaced. While religion indeed plays an influential role in our lives, there certainly is a need to monitor some wreckful beliefs. The Vapostori beliefs become a great cause for concern especially when they lead to unnecessary loss of human life. A woman member speaking in strict confidence noted that it is something of an anathema to be seen to be taking Western medication in her sect despite the common deaths resulting from the practice.

I have always been inspired by the American Unilateral Declaration of Independence (A.U.D.I) which has been described as possessing some of the finest words of the English Language. It states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator certain inalienable rights, which among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This quote might have its grounding in American history yet it carries a deeply fundamental theme with an application which cuts across humanity.

Every human being, by mere fact of being human, has certain rights bestowed upon them which no one should take away. Whether one is a vagrant in the streets of Harare or the president himself sitting upon his throne, they all possess a right to belong to a religious group of their choice even as enshrined in The Zimbabwean constitution section 60(1) (a) (b). It can only be fascistic to try and coerce any group of people into embracing beliefs contrary to their chosen faith.

While I am a firm believer in people’s right tofreedom of worship, it remains doubly crucial that people are not allowed to become a danger unto others or themselves as is currently happening in the Vapostori sects. Turning a blind eye on the happenings in these sects, in my view, is failing the vulnerable members in these groups. Church leaders have a pivotal role to demystify the scourge. There should be no mystery or curse connotations about the H.I.V pandemic. H.I.V does not afflict the promiscuous only as is commonly peddled in some congregations. It is the worst mistake that can be made to associate the disease with sin. In fact, statistics tell a sobering story of how thousands are victims not to mention children born with the virus.

H.I.V is anyone’s disease hence at the New Start Centres they rightly mention, when one tests negative that only at that moment is one free of the virus. At any moment one can be infected.  The stigmatization of the disease continues to be a major contributor fanning the warped beliefs in these sects. Everyone is at risk and it is incumbent upon religious leaders to promote openness and clear the path for information about the disease. Imagine how different things would be if these leaders encouraged voluntary testing and counseling as opposed to associating the pandemic with sin. How many lives would be saved?

There is no doubt that the current acts in the Vapostori sects, at large, constitute classical abuse and the leaders prevailing over such groups indeed must be brought to book. It would appear the need to limit the rights of religious sects has become a priority matter in Zimbabwe to protect and save lives in this regard.

I have always been inspired by the American Unilateral Declaration of Independence (A.U.D.I) which has been described as possessing some of the finest words of the English Language. It states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator certain inalienable rights, which among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This quote might have its grounding in American history yet it carries a deeply fundamental theme with an application which cuts across humanity.

Every human being, by mere fact of being human, has certain rights bestowed upon them which no one should take away. Whether one is a vagrant in the streets of Harare or the president himself sitting upon his throne, they all possess a right to belong to a religious group of their choice even as enshrined in The Zimbabwean constitution section 60(1) (a) (b). It can only be fascistic to try and coerce any group of people into embracing beliefs contrary to their chosen faith.

While I am a firm believer in people’s right tofreedom of worship, it remains doubly crucial that people are not allowed to become a danger unto others or themselves as is currently happening in the Vapostori sects. Turning a blind eye on the happenings in these sects, in my view, is failing the vulnerable members in these groups. Church leaders have a pivotal role to demystify the scourge. There should be no mystery or curse connotations about the H.I.V pandemic. H.I.V does not afflict the promiscuous only as is commonly peddled in some congregations. It is the worst mistake that can be made to associate the disease with sin. In fact, statistics tell a sobering story of how thousands are victims not to mention children born with the virus.

H.I.V is anyone’s disease hence at the New Start Centres they rightly mention, when one tests negative that only at that moment is one free of the virus. At any moment one can be infected.  The stigmatization of the disease continues to be a major contributor fanning the warped beliefs in these sects. Everyone is at risk and it is incumbent upon religious leaders to promote openness and clear the path for information about the disease. Imagine how different things would be if these leaders encouraged voluntary testing and counseling as opposed to associating the pandemic with sin. How many lives would be saved?

There is no doubt that the current acts in the Vapostori sects, at large, constitute classical abuse and the leaders prevailing over such groups indeed must be brought to book. It would appear the need to limit the rights of religious sects has become a priority matter in Zimbabwe to protect and save lives in this regard.