Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: Churches barred from holding camp

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BULAWAYO - The Zimbabwe government has banned the church from Helensvale Farm holding camp for Bulawayo families displaced by the government's clean-up campaign.

Church leaders, who had sheltered the about 300 homeless people at their churches before their relocation to Helensvale last week, will now have to seek permission from Bulawayo governor Cain Mathema to visit the camp, about 20 km north-west of the city.

The religious leaders from various denominations had held on to the families, resisting government efforts to move them to the camp demanding that basic amenities be first installed at Helensvale and also guarantees they would be allowed to continue helping the displaced families.

The government agreed to the churches request only to turn back on its word on Tuesday this week when state security officials and welfare officers interrupted a church pastor in the middle of a sermon and told him the church was no longer welcome at the camp.

Pastor Albert Chatindo of the Christian Faith Fellowship Church that is among about 20 churches from Bulawayo that was helping raise aid for the displaced families as well as ministering among them said the government officials told him they had been instructed by superiors in Harare to bar churches from the holding camp.

"They (government officials) said I should get off the farm immediately. I had to beg to go back to get my jacket and Bible," Chatindo told ZimOnline. "The social welfare officer said they had received instructions from Harare not to allow churches on to the farm. They said we now have to get clearance from the governor before going to the farm," he added.

The government's change of tack came at a time when a South African Council of Churches delegation was expected in Bulawayo as part of a countrywide tour of Zimbabwe to assess aid requirements for people displaced by the government urban clean-up campaign.

In the meantime, the government has also stepped up pressure on displaced people still sheltered at church halls to leave the halls and go either to Helensvale or to their rural homes.

A team of police officers on Wednesday went around Bulawayo churches collecting identification details and finger prints of people staying at the churches in preparation of their relocation which sources indicated must take place by Monday next week. - ZimOnline