By Vimbai Kamoyo
HARARE- It is the dream of many a woman to give birth in an up-market hospital with state of the art equipment and gynecologists in attendance. But not if one is a member of an ultra-conservative apostolic sect.
Angela Manyowa (28) from the sprawling high density suburb of Epworth, about 12 km from the central business district of the capital Harare and a member of the Johanne Marange Apostolic church since birth; has never sought the services of a conventional medical facility even when giving birth.
She says women from her church deliver at homes or bush camps better known as zvitsidzo. These are tents and shacks pitched and built to accommodate expectant mothers and are usually at the homesteads of midwives. The women can number up to fifteen at a given time, all of them being members of a particular church. Each woman stays in her own tent or shack where she cooks and sleeps until the hour of her delivery when she is moved to the common tent used by the midwife.
“I am originally from Buhera and my husband is from Bocha more than 70 km from my maiden home. We do not believe in the use of conventional medicine. The Holy Spirit takes care of all our spiritual needs. I do not know the inside of a hospital. Even on maternity matters we do not visit antenatal facilities,” said Manyowa.
Manyowa however, concedes the practice is fraught with dangers.
“True, the act of giving birth at home or bush camps can be dangerous as there might be complications that call for people who are educated and qualified to deal with them but we believe in the power of the holy spirit to deliver without any mishaps,” she added.
A midwife from the same location who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal from health authorities said there was nothing wrong with delivering at home or bush camps.
“I see nothing wrong with us delivering in our sect because this is what has been happening from way back before the advent of the white man,” She says.
“I am 65 years old now and have been in this business for close to 40 years. I have helped over 100 women to deliver safely. Our church operates within the realm of the Holy Spirit and no mishap can happen unless the woman is a cheat.
“It is also cheaper than going to the hospital where hundreds of dollars are demanded for the job we do just for a few bars of soap and a packet of sugar. Anyway how did blacks give birth before conventional medicine was introduced in this country?” she asks rhetorically.
The midwife stressed that for a flawless delivery the expectant mother should be “clean.”
Clean in Johanne Marange church and other conservative churches is a parlance for a woman who would have confessed all her wrong doings, particularly cheating her husband.
In a related story, Kwayedza newspaper recently reported that a woman in rural Seke, Chitungwiza, was beaten to death by midwives after a difficult delivery. She was allegedly forced to confess if she had cheated her husband. The woman was a member of the Johanne Marange apostolic sect.
Mashonaland police spokesperson Inspector Nobert Muzondo confirmed the incident.
“Indeed we are investigating the suspected murder case of Faith Mwongeni. The information we have is that she died at Mukosera’s homestead in Rubatika village in Dema, Seke. It is suspected that she was beaten to death by people who were trying to induce her to confess after a difficult delivery,” he told the paper of 7-13 January.
According to the 2012 National Census Report Zimbabwe’s maternal mortality ratio stood at 525 per 100 000 live births with experts saying the country is losing 8 women a day to deaths caused by birth complications.
A study conducted by the Organisation for Public Health Inventions and Development (Ophid) on the Role of Apostolic Midwives in Mashonaland Central Province found that women in ultra-conservative apostolic sects receive assistance from traditional birth attendants (TBAs) at home or in bush amps.
The study also revealed that the Vapostori birth attendants were not medically trained. Expectant mothers at the camps receive spiritual guidance when life-threatening complications occur during and or after birth.
The trust said the apostolic groupings view modern health services as “heathen, devilish and secular.”
Harare Director of Ophid, Karen Webb says the sects have devised their own health care system. For example, hands are used for abdominal scanning of pregnant women, while the Holy Spirit takes care of complications.
“Treatment of problems is done with prayer and holy water. During labour there are no sterile equipment or infection control procedures followed,” Webb said.
She says the TABAs who provide maternal healthcare to apostolic members wield a lot of influence.
“The ATBAs are ‘appointed by the Holy Spirit’ and run birth camps which are not part of the formal health delivery system.”
During a United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) facilitated discussion in Harare, Webb said Johanne Masowe and Johanne Marange sects rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance on matters of life.
“They believe it [Holy Spirit] reveals problems through visions and provides solutions to all problems,” she said.
Meanwhile, Johannes Ndanga, the president of the Christian Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), a body that represents the interests of apostolic sects says it is imperative for churches to seek medical help from hospitals and clinics.
“We cannot continue to live in the past. It is important for us as Vapostori to embrace modern technology and medical help. I therefore, urge our members to seek medical assistance from hospitals,” he said.
The Minister of Health and Child Care, David Parirenyatwa said it was important for Vapositori to seek medical health at hospitals.
“We urge members of the apostolic sects to go to hospitals even so on maternity issues but we need to be patient with them and sensitize them on the importance of doing so especially in the light of complications that can be encountered,” he said.