THE battle to control the Guta RaJehovah shrine in Hlohla Village under Headman Nyamagura in Zvimba district has split the church into two factions and resulted in violence that allegedly saw two huts being torched.

The Sunday Mail Religion last Tuesday visited the shrine after receiving information that tension had escalated to alarming levels with two huts belonging to a faction leader razed to the ground.

According to information at hand, the feud is over land reportedly owned by the founder of GRJ, commonly known as Mai Chaza, after it was given to her by Chief Zvimba in 1950.

A Mrs Rukuni, Mai Chaza’s granddaughter leads a faction which insists on family and church members sharing the space; while Mr Thompson Manhenga’s faction wants eviction of the former to ensure erection of a church building.

Mrs Rukuni said her were huts burnt and lost personal belongings.

Mashonaland West Provincial Police spokesperson Inspector Clemence Mabgweazara confirmed that a report to that effect had been made at Murombedzi Police Station.

“Police are currently investigating the matter and I cannot say anything more than that,” said Insp Mabgweazara.

Mrs Rukuni alleged: “This was done to frustrate us and destroy court evidence in our possession. We have several cases that are pending at the courts and people who started this fire are just desperate. Their desperation has caused them to do this.

“It’s not surprising that one day they might think of even killing us. The environment we are living under has become very dangerous in recent weeks.”

Mr Manhenga, the deputy president-priest of the GRJ break-away faction, distanced himself from the alleged arson, and suggested lightning could have struck the huts.

He said, “As we were about to start our morning prayers at around five last Tuesday, we saw smoke in the air and upon interrogating we realised that there were two huts that were up in flames. We did not bother ourselves; rather we proceeded with our prayers as we are not in good books with the owners of the huts.

“We were aware that the owners were no present when disaster struck but because of the bad blood between us we could not help.”

Mr Manhenga added: “We never approached the scene but we concluded that the fire was started by lightning because it was raining.”

Mrs Rukuni gave her narrative

“I went to Murewa (last Monday) to attend a funeral. I left everything in order but the following day my son called me telling me that fire had destroyed all my belongings. As I am talking to you right now I have nothing, everything was destroyed and I am sure these people selected what they wanted first and thereafter destroyed the evidence by fire.

“Blankets, church uniforms, all my clothing, plates and pots, court papers and my personal things were destroyed. If it was lightning it should have started with a tree which is nearby

surprisingly the tree was spared, and my house was reduced to ashes,” she said.

Mrs Rukuni said she had at several times heard people at the shrine declaring they would destroy everything belonging to their rivals.

“On a daily basis we receive threats. We are not safe here; every day we are (threatened) with words and actions. This is despite the fact that the High Court gave us separate times to worship about two years ago.

“There is rampant abuse here, particularly to us women. People are no longer worshiping. These people are taking the law into their hands.

“They publicly say ‘we have money so we do whatever we want’. Even when they are preaching, all their sermons are full of provocation and insulting words,” alleged Mrs Rukuni.

Mrs Rukuni said she was accused of being a Satanist because she reported the fire to the police.

“This place was given to the founder of GRJ — Matenga (Mai Chaza) — by Chief Zvimba long back, around 1950, as her private property. As we were growing up we had the privilege of seeing Matenga conducting her sacred services that include healing and deliverance.

“And she clearly stated that this place was not a church stand but a private property. Things went well up until her death in 1961; that is when rebellion started. People started claiming that this place belongs to the church.

“But because my mother — who was the first born of Matenga — was still alive things were a little bit calm. In 1991 my mother died and some church members who had their personal ambitions tried to evict us from the shrine but due to court orders their eviction efforts were thrown away.

“We approached the courts several times and in most cases the courts supported us. At one point the court made it very clear that this place is not the property of the church as there is a lease agreement which indicates that the church stand is at Kazangarare Business Centre, not here.

“The court orders fuelled tension between us and also resulted in all these evil things that are happening here,” she said.

Both factions said the Spirit of God had left the shrine.

“Some of the evil acts that have been happening here include poisoning of water and vegetable gardens, fist fights, church service interruptions and burning of gardens,” said Mr David Kwenda, a resident at the shrine.

Mr Kwenda said last weekend, police officers — along with a forensics team — visited the GRJ shrine to get first hand information of what was happening.

“They came here, conducted their interviews as well as investigations and now we are waiting for the results,” Mr Kwenda said.

“This place was given to the founder of GRJ — Matenga (Mai Chaza) — by Chief Zvimba long back, around 1950, as her private property.’