A joint operation between the Namibian police and immigration officials that targeted foreign-owned churches in Windhoek led to the arrest of 42 foreigners on Sunday – after they were found to be in the country illegally.
Nineteen babies and children were arrested alongside their mothers. Those arrested include 39 Zimbabweans and three Angolans.
Their Sunday service religious crusades are conducted outdoors in the bush, in and around some of Windhoek’s impoverished areas, which aroused the suspicion of the police.
The operation was led by the Khomas Police Regional Community Affairs Officer, Inspector Christina van Dunem Fonsech, a team of immigration officers and members of Nampol’s legal department on Sunday morning.
Fonsech said mothers and their children were housed at a government shelter while waiting to be deported.
She noted that the majority of those arrested had no passports. Some of them had passports that had expired.
“Some of them even started working as domestic workers,” she said.
Fonsech said it raises suspicion when a group of people assemble in the bush and their activities are unknown.
Apostolic sects that conduct religious services are said to have proliferated in Zimbabwe where they claim they can cure all manner of illness and conduct prayers to enhance the fortunes of followers.
“Most churches are misleading society and are the reason why some neighbours aren’t talking to each other,” she said, adding that the police are aware of several unusual activities conducted by churches.
Fonsech said it was reported to her office that there are some churches that perform cleansing ceremonies in graveyards and colon-cleansing by flushing milk through a tube into the rectum.
“One wonders if they are still churches or healers!”
Chief Inspector George Mahoney from the police’s legal department said it is not illegal for churches to conduct their services in the bush but that they need permission from the municipality or private owners of the land on which they practise their ceremonies.
“Did the municipality give them the right? That is not clear. We need clarity on that,” said Mahoney.
“Even if the churches say they are worshiping do they have permits? In terms of carrying out their functions as pastors, is the church registered? Where is it registered? Ultimately we need to have control. We have churches here and they are registered,” Mahoney stated.
During an operation in Kilimanjaro area, some members of the Johane Masowe Chimwetechete congregation fled into the mountains when the police approached them.
Those who remained behind and were rounded up by the police were mostly women and children.
The police operation started at an undeveloped and secluded area in Otjomuise. The small piece of land has been cleared and raked. There is a cross made of rocks on the eastern side of the piece of land and two huge piles of ash and a makeshift structure, which the police claim is used to cleanse people.
Another group of more than 30 were found in the veld in the Northern Industrial Area. When the police approached them they continued singing and worshiping. The majority, who are Zimbabweans, wore white long garments and were bare feet. The group initially said their church’s name is Johane Masowe but later changed it to John Friday Apostolic.
An elder from the church, Lucknodge Moyo, said the place they occupy was appointed by the holy spirit. Moyo also claimed that City Police authorised them to operate from there.
“If you do prayers here, they will be answered,” Moyo responded to the police when asked why they chose to conduct their services in the bush.
He said his members are mainly Namibians and Zimbabwean but he was not selective about who joined the church.
A church member said they also pray for people with different problems such as those suffering “bad luck” or sleepless nights, among others.
Johane Masowe Chimwechete leader Agnes Makanza said they chose the mountains because it is far from everyone. “We pray to God. We worship in the forest,” said Makanza who claimed she was married to a Namibian man.