BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
IT is three days before Good Friday, and Mugodhi Apostolic Faith Church (MAFC) members begin to trickle in at Chitope, the church’s headquarters in Wedza, Mashonaland East province.
But there are some unusual congregants in the swelling crowd in the form of anti-riot police officers.
To passers-by, one would think people were gathering for a political rally, but to those in the know, a physical clash is imminent between two warring factions fiercely fighting for control of the church.
Sooner than later, the church members fail to partake in the highly anticipated spiritual Passover as running battles ensue.
Despite being on holy ground, members in white garments are seen with knives and switches trading blows in the ensuing melee.
Violence has been routine at this shrine since the death of Bishop Thadeau Mugodhi in October 2019 aged 79. A number of sect members are now reluctant to travel to Chitope for fear of being caught up in these clashes.
“Violence is the order of the day, there is no peace and we are praying to God that this will end soon,” said Martha Marufu (47), a follower from Buhera.
NewsDay visited Chitope shrine and met some top church members in a bid to establish the cause of confusion and violence within one of the most followed apostolic churches in Zimbabwe.
It turned out that the church’s problems emanated from a constitutional crisis.
As he battled cancer in July 2017, Mugodhi ordered the church’s top hierarchy to change a clause on succession in the then draft constitution.
“The late Bishop was in possession of the church’s draft constitution. He then ordered some of the top members to change the clause on succession to allow his son to take over after him, but all in vain.
“The members, after deliberating on the issue, however, resolved that no alterations be made to the constitution, especially on issues of succession.
“The draft constitution was signed and passed in 2012 without any changes, against Mugodhi’s wishes,” a top church member who refused to be named told NewsDay.
According to the church constitution seen by NewsDay, the church leadership role is based on seniority and hierarchy.
In the case of the death of a bishop, his first deputy, automatically takes over.
“The two bishops shall perform these and other spiritual duties, be appointed and installed as bishop of MAFC by a general conference when the position of the bishop becomes vacant by reason of his death or resignation in accordance with church regulations,” read the constitution in part.
On August 10, 2019, about two months before he died, summoned all leaders in Budiriro, where one of his allies identified as Mutsvikiri announced that Washington Mugodhi had been appointed the first bishop.
Davison Mangoma, the church’s advisor and head of the legal unit said the announcement immediately triggered protests.
“We were all shocked by the announcement. That was a clear violation of the church’s constitution. There was no way the late bishop could appoint his son as the first bishop disregarding his deputies and 15 other members who constitute the board of ministers.
“This led to divisions with some following Washington, while others decided to stand for the truth,” said Mangoma.
At the time of Mugodhi’s death, the church had two deputies Aaron Munodawafa and Tony Sigauke.
Munodawafa, who hails from Gokwe and believed to be over 108 years old, is currently incapacitated due to advanced age leaving Sigauke as acting bishop.
“Since the formation of MAFC in the late 1940s, bishops were installed based on seniority and in accordance with the constitution. Do we have to allow this violation of the constitution, especially on succession issues now?” Mangoma added.
MAFC was formed in 1947 following a split from the then Kruger Apostolic Faith Mission, which consisted of members mainly from the white community.
In 1948, a large gathering was held at Chitsunge, Chokore village in Buhera, where Elijah Mugodhi was installed as bishop hence the name “Mugodhi”.
Born in 1899, Elijah Mugodhi led the congregation from 1949 until the time of his death in 1971. Following his death, his deputy Chakuwinga took over the reins as the leader.
Chakuwinga was succeeded by his vice known as Chikwenha, who after his death as well, was succeeded by Mabvuwiwa.
Mabvuwiwa then handed the baton stick to the late Thadeau Mugodhi who was the son of the founding bishop Elijah.
The late Mugodhi’s friend and Zimbabwe Amalgamated Churches Council patron Jimayi Muduvuri said Washington was appointed by his father despite the existence of the constitution.
“The late Thadeau Mugodhi appointed his son Washington as leader of the church. He even told me that he was going to leave his son at the helm. It is a pity that Washington is no longer recognising me.
“The church has a constitution, but Mugodhi told me that some people did not alter it as he instructed. Washington is the leader after being appointed by his late father,” Muduvuri said.
And Washington, like the situation he finds himself in, has been slippery and could not be contacted for comment.