Zodwa Wabantu antics at Johanne Masowe

Veronica Gwaze
Popular South African dancer and socialite, Zodwa Wabantu, born Zodwa Rebecca Libram, attracted a media frenzy last year after the administration led by former president Mr Robert Mugabe banned her from performing in Zimbabwe.

The Government then said her acts did not conform to the morals and values of Zimbabwean culture.

The socialite who came to the limelight for not wearing undergarments at public events had been scheduled to perform last year and her “performance” was cancelled on the eleventh hour.

As intriguing as this was, it has also emerged that the white-garment apostolic sects like the Johanne Masowe Ye Makanda are following Zodwa’s antics as they ban their female congregants from wearing undergarments during their menstruation periods.

This writer, posing as a congregant, last week spent a day at one of the church’s shrines in Bindura where females had to go to a stream which they call the “holy stream”.

They believe that women on menses are unclean before God hence they need to be “cleansed’’ at the stream first.

Tererai Manhize, a former congregant, said the sect is very strict with menstruating females.

“The elderly in the church are very particular about issues of menstruation and during this period they do not allow one to put on church regalia neither are they allowed to come to the shrine because they are considered unholy and, therefore, need cleansing.

“When one is menstruating they are also not allowed to wear undergarments and instead of attending church services they should go to the ‘holy stream’ which they call the Dziva re Bethsaida and wash away the unholy spirits,” she said.

Manhize who became a convert by marriage said menstruating is nothing worth hiding to the church because of the rules that govern the women.

“Because of the rules on menstruating women, when one is going through that phase automatically the entire church knows since there are some do’s and don’ts which relate to this phase.

“When I was new at the church, it made me feel uncomfortable but later I became used. But I feel it is a challenge to young girls who are still in their teens who feel that menstruation is a big secret,” she said.

It was after her first marriage of three years collapsed early this year that Manhize left the church.

Baba Kennedy, an elder at the church, said gathering from Leviticus 15 vs 19 to 30, when a woman is menstruating, they become unclean and should not come into contact with others which is why they are not allowed to come to the shrine.

“There are lots of biblical scriptures that make it clear that when a woman is menstruating she is unclean and that is why we do not allow them at the shrine because this is a holy place and kudziva re Bethsaida, men are not allowed to be seen anywhere near there neither do we baptise people there,” he said.

Human rights lawyer Mr Clever Mandizvidza said Zimbabwe is a constitutional democracy and like any other Constitutional state, it should be guided by the supreme law.

“The Constitution is the supreme law of the land and any law, custom, practice or conduct contrary to the constitution is invalid to the extent of that inconsistency.”

While the constitution guarantees the right to religion, Mr Mandizvidza said this right should be exercised in harmony with other rights that are enshrined in the Constitution.

Mr Mandizvidza condemned churches that “unfairly” treat menstruating women. “Treating menstruating women differently by reason of menstruation, a condition that they do not have control over, takes away their inherent dignity. Section 51 of the Constitution obliges everyone to respect and protect the dignity inherent in other people. In the same vein,

Section 56 guarantees equality and non-discrimination to all citizens of Zimbabwe and, therefore, treatment of menstruating women different from others is discriminatory, as such unconstitutional and pure violation of human rights.”

Mr Mandizvidza said while religion at some point is a game of blind submission where many are brainwashed to be content with all that happens in their sect it become difficult for the victim to see that their rights are being violated.

“However, it becomes a different case if the women so unfairly treated are actually happy with it as part of their religion. The choice is, indeed, between their conscience and the constitutionally guaranteed rights and if their conscience tells them to accept the practice as normal many forego their rights.

On the other hand, the church has stopped accepting new converts claiming that their church is full, and therefore, cannot accommodate new members.

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