A 13-year-old girl vanished at the Johane Marange Apostolic Church’s Mafararikwa Shrine near Mutare during their Passover gathering last month and is still to be accounted for, six weeks later.
The disappearance of Violet Mushati took place at around the time 14-year-old Anna Machaya died while giving birth at the shrine and was buried inside the shrine. Anna died on 15 July and her husband, 26-year-old Hatirarami Momberume, is in remand prison charged with murder and sleeping with a minor.
A report by The Manica Post says Violet vanished while in the company of her grandmother Violet Saini Zhangaroti from Taruvinga Village in Mutiusinazita area of Buhera South. She was last seen at the shrine on July 18.
Violet was doing Grade Seven at Barura Primary School, and reports say she ‘‘vanished’’ while they were preparing to leave for their Buhera home with other congregants. But it is the behaviour of her grandmother that has led to suspicions that she was married off to one of the congregants, as it emerged that the Johane Marange Apostolic Church members have been marrying off minor girl children.
The grandmother, Violet Saini Zhangaroti, claimed she was making a police report this Tuesday, some six weeks after Violet’s disappearance, saying she was bedridden with a headache.
“I am on my way to Mutiusinazita Police Station to make a report on Violet’s ‘‘disappearance’’. She vanished soon after our Passover gathering at Mafararikwa Shrine on July 18,” the elderly lady told the publication. “We were together at the Marange gathering and she ‘‘disappeared’’ as we were about to leave for Buhera.
“I tried to locate her in vain. I was having a terrible headache and was advised to go and rest at home. Some people are saying Violet eloped with another congregant, but these are unsubstantial rumours. She is still too young to be married.
“We have looked for her everywhere and I could not make a police report all this time because I was bedridden. Her disappearance is not something new as these cases are common after our church gatherings.”
However, Manicaland police said they were yet to see a police report of Violet’s disappearance.
“Our office is yet to receive such a report. We will continue checking with our counterparts at Mutiusinazita,” said Manicaland provincial police spokesperson, Inspector Luxson Chananda.
As if to buttress reports that Violet was married off and that her grandmother was in the now, The Manica Post reports that sources say the 13-year-old girl was lured by an elderly ‘‘suitor’’ who was flaunting US dollars while spoiling her with snacks during the church gathering.
Violet’s relatives even claim that her ‘‘marriage’’ could have been settled by goodies like sugar and a small monetary token reportedly given to her grandparents, adding that some family members were married off that way previously.
They said Violet’s 13-year-old cousin was married off last year in similar fashion. The girl is said to have recently lost her baby after complications during delivery.
Violet’s father, Tinashe Mucharwa, is said to be based in South Africa, and is separated from the mother. He expressed pain that his child could have been married off, and demanded justice saying that his parents were probably hiding something from authorities.
“It is difficult to fathom that someone is staying with my daughter as a wife. I keen to know the truth because I am not buying my parents’ explanation of Violet’s disappearance. We sent out search parties all over, but this has drawn blanks.
“I was once a member of this church and I left after failing to agree with some of their doctrines. There are a lot of abuses in the church. I will not rest until I know the whereabouts of my daughter,” Tinashe said.
‘‘Justice should prevail and I want my daughter to continue with her education. Had it not been for work commitments here, I would have come on the ground and do everything possible to rescue my daughter from this bondage. If my parents know the truth, they should assist us in locating my daughter because this is causing me sleepless nights.”
A relative, Innocent Mucharwa, is convinced Violet was married off by her grandparents.
Said Innocent: “Enock Mushati Mucharwa and his wife, Zhangaroti know Violet’s whereabouts. This is not the first incident to be reported in this family. Tafadzwa is between a rock and a hard place because while he wants justice to prevail, he cannot expose his parents’ shenanigans.
“All his sisters were married off in the same manner. Last year, one of his sisters was married off at 13 and gave birth this year. The baby died soon after delivery due to birth complications.”
Violet’s other uncle, Elton Mucharwa, confirmed that Violet’s case was just a tip of the iceberg in the family in particular and the church in general.
“She is not the first to be married off. Enough is enough and we cannot just fold our arms and watch these innocent girls being abused. People here have been turning a blind eye to these child marriages for fear of victimisation and witchcraft. Some of these unions are secretly done. The husbands just pay a small token like sugar, a goat or $100.
“It does not make any sense for someone to make a missing person report a month after the incident. This alone shows that there are a lot of questions to be answered. My brother should not torment his own flesh and blood like that. They should do the noble thing of facilitating Violet’s return home,” said Elton, who was the first to expose Violet’s case to the media.
But Johane Marange Apostolic Church spokesperson, Nyasha Marange, professed ignorance over Violet’s case, just like he did with the Anna Machaya case.
“Violet’s case is still to be brought to our attention. We never gathered last month as is being alleged by the Mucharwas. We do not condone child marriages and if, indeed, she was married off, the law should take its course,” said Marange.
‘‘When individuals commit offences, the church will not protect them. We have suffered a lot of bad publicity because of individuals’ misdeeds and I want to reiterate that our High Priest, Noah Taguta always speaks strongly against child marriages.
“We are a law-abiding church and we urge the police to thoroughly investigate Violet’s disappearance and bring all perpetrators to book.”
Meanwhile, Violet’s ‘‘husband’’ remains a mysterious figure. Also, police are yet to locate the grave for Anna Machaya, with investigations ongoing.
Girl child marriages particularly in the Johane Marange Church have caused a national outrage and international outcry. The United Nations last week called on Government to ensure the rights of minors were protected and to bring all culprits to book.