Eight male church members, including two brothers, of the Nguwo Tsvuku (Jerusarema) Church drowned on Saturday in Mazowe River in Rushinga during a ritual, with three of the 11 men who jumped into the pool being rescued.
Mashonaland Central provincial development coordinator, Mr Timothy Tigere, said the bodies of the deceased were retrieved and that the provincial civil protection unit was mobilising resources to buy coffins, fuel and food to assist the families. He said the leader of the apostolic sect was on a mission to select a baptist from a pool of prophets and threw a rod into the river, reportedly telling the prophets that whoever retrieved the rod would become the new baptist.
Eleven men are said to have jumped into the river leading to the drowning of the eight. A church member Mr George Kamhekete said: “Saturday was our last day to gather at church and traditionally we baptise each other before passover on Sunday”.
‘‘We went to the river around 10am and stood in a formation as is our norm when we are praying. The prophets stood at the front and we started singing church songs.
‘‘The prophets fell into a trance and started jumping into the water and they drowned. We managed to rescue three men but the rest drowned. The matter was reported to police and the bodies were taken to Chimhanda Clinic mortuary.
“We are in need of coffins and food as we wait for the burial of the deceased,” said Mr Kamhekete.
Mr Kamhekete said this was not the first time such a baptism at the pool had been conducted.
“In 2019 during our annual congregation, we baptised each other without any challenges and our prophets entered the pool in the same manner and nothing happened. Last year we failed to congregate because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The deceased were all family men aged between 21 and 50 and two of them were brothers.”
Rushinga MP Tendai Nyabani said he was coordinating assistance for the bereaved families.
“They had travelled for about 10 kilometres to the river. The prophets misjudged the depth and were in a trance. They jumped into the river and drowned.
“There were thousands of congregants waiting to be baptised. The majority of the deceased were from Rushinga except for one who is from Domboshawa.
“The bodies are at Chimhanda Clinic and we have notified the Provincial Civil Protection Unit for assistance. We also informed the Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution Senator Monica Mavhunga and Zanu PF provincial chairperson Cde Kazembe Kazembe.”