By Cletus Mushanawani
Mutare — The death of a married 14-year-old Johanne Marange Apostolic Church girl during childbirth at the church’s shrine in Marange, and the location of her grave, are now subjects of a police investigation that could result in prosecutions.
While everyone involved agrees that the girl, Memory Machaya, is dead, the location of her grave is in dispute. Her family insists that she was buried at the shrine soon after death, while the Johanne Marange Apostolic Church says this cannot be true, since the church buries no one at the shrine, and bodies are returned to families.
Memory Machaya, who hailed from Kwekwe, was married to Evans Momberume, a marriage that would be found to be in breach of the law once her age is confirmed.
Police detectives from Mutare CID went to Kwekwe to verify Memory’s age and once the age is confirmed they will be moving against Momberume and preferring charges against him and against anyone else who may have facilitated that marriage.
The baby boy whose birth led to his mother’s death is doing well and is reportedly in the custody of the Machaya family in Kwekwe.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said police were conducting investigations and promised to give more information soon.
A source close to the investigations said: “Our homicide team is on the ground and we hope they will complete their investigations before Friday for the further management of the case.”
With police promising to get to the bottom of the issue, the church has promised to cooperate fully with the authorities.
In a telephone interview with our Manicaland Bureau on Wednesday, the church’s coordinator and spokesperson, Mr Nyasha Marange, said the church abided by the laws of the land and would not stand in the way of law enforcement agents as they probe the case.
“It is true that Memory was married to Evans Momberume. The police should probe the case to its logical conclusion. She died after giving birth and her baby is with the Machayas in Kwekwe.
“As the Johanne Marange Apostolic Church, we will not protect any of our congregants being investigated by law enforcement agents for any criminal offence, be it murder, rape or marrying a minor.
“The police should carry out their duties without fear or favour. No one is above the law and if any of our congregants has a case to answer, let the due process take its course.
As a church, we have been preaching against marrying of minors. During our Saturday church meetings, elders take time to preach against child marriages. No one should be married before the age of 18,” said Mr Marange.
On her place of burial, he vehemently denied that Memory was buried at the church shrine.
“There is no graveyard at our shrine. If a congregant dies during our gatherings, arrangements are made to ferry that person’s body to their place of origin.
“The shrine is only used for gatherings and Memory’s body was not buried in the shrine as alleged by her family. We do not have a secret graveyard at the shrine as this violates the country’s laws.”
While insistent that she had not been buried at the shrine, he did not know where she had been buried.
Machaya family spokesperson Ms Alice Mabika last week insisted that her niece was buried at the shrine.
“She died soon after delivering her baby boy and the church members went on to bury her without involving us,” said Ms Mabika.
She continues to insist she and Memory’s mother, Ms Shy Mabika, were barred from entering the shrine.
“When we arrived at the shrine after getting wind of Memory’s death, we were barred from entering. We remained resolute in our quest to see our daughter’s body but the security details would not budge.”
The Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises and others including the Council of Indigenous Churches of Africa have called for thorough investigations into the case which has caused national outcry.
Women Affairs Minister Sithembiso Nyoni encouraged people from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds to respect constitutional provisions.
“I want to unequivocally state that child marriage is nothing other than child sexual abuse disguised as a marriage and there is no reason for tolerating such abuse.
“Religion and culture should not be used to sanitise a violation of other people’s rights. Child marriage is a violation of multiple rights of the girl child that include denying her the right to education, the right to health and her well-being.
“It exposes the girl child to gender-based violence, HIV and other health related conditions. It puts the young mother into a cycle of poverty,” said Minister Nyoni.
CICA president, Apostle Golden Zininga called upon the police to get to the bottom of the case.
“This is just a tip of the iceberg. As the Council of Indigenous Churches of Africa, we totally condemn such practices in the church. Sections 19 and 81 of the country’s Constitution empower the State and its machinery to safeguard children’s rights,” said Apostle Zininga.
“As churches, let us revisit our operational guidelines to meet modern standards. Let us help our member churches to align with Biblical ethics and United Nations’ guidelines on children’s rights. We also urge the community to report any cases of rape and child marriages to the police and other agencies so that we can unearth these hyenas in sheep skins.”