THEY wear white, gather outdoors to sing and pray and, to the dismay of health authorities in Zimbabwe, Apostolic Church members are standing in the way of attempts to get people vaccinated.
The Guardian reports that since the government partly reopened church gatherings in August, “white church” members are gathering once more in great numbers and spreading the message that “little stones and holy water”, rather than vaccines will ensure their members aren’t infected by Covid.
While the Catholic church, evangelical and adventist groups have advised vaccinations, those in the Apostolic Church are proving strongly resistant to jabs.
With millions of followers across southern Africa, the church’s stance could undermine Zimbabwe’s attempts to vaccinate 60 percent of the population by December.
Said Gramaridge Musendekwa, of the Vadzidzi Apostolic church:
We believe in God, and science is entirely subject to God’s will. I grew up on my parents’ prayers and I am passing it down to my children. My family will not take the vaccine because we are protected by prayers.
I believe we should not be forced to get vaccinated. For us who grew up without medicine, vaccinations are an insult to our faith and religion. Surely the authorities can achieve whatever they want to do without involving us.
After spending hours at a shrine, decorated with red and white flags, Miriam Mushayabasa, 34, a mother-of-three, believes she does not need a vaccine.
Our preacher gave us a clear instruction that if we use these little stones and holy water he prayed for, nothing will happen to our families. Since Covid-19 began last March, my family and I have never suffered from this disease, we are as strong as ever.
My children are strong, so I have no cause to fear. I have always believed in prayers and this is how I choose to go through this pandemic.
The Apostolic position threatens the success of vaccination programmes in southern Africa, according to research published in the Journal of Religion and Health in 2017, which linked it directly to the rise of measles outbreaks in 2009 to 2010.
More than 85 percent of Zimbabweans identify as Christian, and 37 percent belong to the Apostolic church.
So far only 15 percent of Zimbabwe’s population has been inoculated since vaccinations began in February. It is one of 15 African countries to have achieved the World Health Organization target of 10 percent of citizens by September.
Regular vaccine consignments are arriving from China, but the government says misinformation and general mistrust have slowed the vaccination programme.
Aaron Chakaipa, 40, reflecting the fears of his fellow Apostolic members, said:
I heard that if you get vaccinated, you will not be fertile any more. I am really scared to take it. I believe an individual should make a personal decision and not be cajoled into taking the vaccination. Telling people to stay away from church if they are not vaccinated is the same as forcing the vaccination, which is not right.
However, Andby Makururu, bishop and founder of the Johane Fifth of Africa Apostolic church in the eastern Manicaland province, is encouraging his members to get vaccinated.
We are transforming the indigenous church to suit global standards. Johane the Fifth of Africa has been on a vaccination drive.
In all our preachings, we encourage members to get vaccinations because the Holy Spirit does not cure all these diseases. So I am encouraging the Apostolic sect to go to hospitals and get treatment, I also get treatment and regular checkups.
He says sects who deny the benefits of vaccines are out of touch.
Our children are getting vaccinated. Those that are still behind are lagging but we are moving with the times.
Meanwhile Tonga’s most populous island Tongatapu has implemented a nighttime curfew and closed non-essential businesses as part of a seven-day shutdown after confirming its first case of Covid-19. It was brought over from New Zealand by a Mormon missionary.