MASVINGO has moved to ban open air worshipping in a bid to stem the possible outbreak of diseases such as cholera and typhoid, city officials announced Wednesday.
Councillors recently resolved to take action against groups worshiping in open spaces, accusing them of violating city by-laws which prohibit people from gathering in large numbers in places that do not have ablution facilities.
“No one should occupy council land without being given the authority and this also includes religious groups,” city mayor Alderman Femius Chakabuda said.
“To make matters worse some religious groups are seen conducting their prayers in open spaces where there are no toilets, let alone water.”
The decision is however, likely to set the local authority on a collision course with groups such as the apostolic faith sects which have traditionally held their worship sessions in the open.
But Chakabuda insisted the local authority would soon launch a campaign to put an end top the practice.
“We are not opposed to people’s religions because we are also God-fearing men and women,” he said.
“We are only worried on seeing people gathering and conducting their prayers where there are no toilets and with the advent of diseases like cholera and typhoid there is a great risk.
"Besides people should get the authority first to use the bushes they are using since all the land around the city is within our jurisdiction as Masvingo City Council.”
Bulawayo also embarked on a similar exercise resulting in the church groups engaging in running battles with council security officers.
The church groups also dismissed as devilish an offer by the city council to use beer halls that have since been closed due to the lack of patronage.
Rejecting the beer-hall offer Madzibaba Ackim Munyoro of End of Times Apostolic Faith Church said: “It is clear that these people are being inspired by the devil to persecute worshippers.
“Where in the world have you ever heard of God being worshipped in a beer-hall?
“What these heathens want us to do is mix up with all the unclean spirits that inhabit beer-halls. It is unacceptable. We would rather remain in the bush in Pumula.”
Still, Bulawayo Mayor, Thaba Moyo said the council wanted to help the worshippers adding that if the beer-halls were filled with demons, as the churches claimed, them it was the duty of believers to cleanse them.
“If they are real Christians, they should go where there are demons and cleanse the place. Their fear of so called demons at beer-halls shows that they could be false worshippers,” he said.
“Anyway, the places are only called beer-halls because they were once used as such. But now the beer and the benches that were used by patrons are no longer there.
“If the churches use these places we can avoid diseases that are caused by people relieving themselves in the bush and avoid confrontations between them and the council.”