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“No Jab – No Church is a violation of freedom of worship” – Epworth residents

Vice President and Health Minister Constantine Chiwenga displays a Covid-19 vaccination card. (File pic)

The government’s directive to restrict church gatherings to only vaccinated members as a measure to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic has been largely viewed by residents in Epworth as is a veiled denial of the freedom of worship.

The directive which was promulgated at a time when there is a shortage of vaccines in the country has been viewed as a  tacit coercive way by the government to get believers vaccinated can be an indicator of the failure to strike a balance between public health safety and religious orientation.

A church environment should remain non-discriminatory and a welcoming space for everyone. Any restrictions then automatically violate the citizens’ rights to freedom of worship.

According to section 1(19) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Act 2013;  no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, that is to say, freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to manifest and propagate religious beliefs through worshipping and teaching. The constitution, therefore, guarantees that every Zimbabwean citizen should attend church regardless of whether one is vaccinated or not, as section 19(4) of the same constitution states that, no person shall be compelled to take an oath that is contrary to his religion and belief.

On 11th August 2021, government prohibited unvaccinated citizens from attending church. The restriction allowed the public to attend full church services only if they were fully vaccinated, a directive that triggered mixed reactions from the public.

Epworth resident, one Farai Mutare said being vaccinated has to be voluntary and all people have to attend church.

 “Vaccination must be based on a voluntary basis but with this directive, the government is now denying citizens their rights and freedom of worship,” said Mutare.

The tacit denial of the right to worship by the executive works against the principle of openness that guides the church as one pastor based in Epworth noted.

“The reality is that church doors are not yet open. The majority of the population is not yet vaccinated and considering that children are exempted, it is therefore impossible for the elders to go to church leaving their kids behind. So there is need to look for other ways of conducting church services without gathering physically,” he said.

The unavailability of the Covid-19 vaccines in most cases when one wants to access them has complicated matters.

“The problem is there are not enough vaccines, people have to wait for hours or otherwise sleep at the vaccination centers and clinics to get vaccinated. Usually by the time the vaccination center opens the vaccine will not be available yet the government is claiming that vaccines are compulsory” the pastor added.

The government order also violates the rights of churches that do not believe in vaccines and medical solutions to all forms of illnesses such as the apostolic sects.

“We have religions like Johanne Marange who believes in faith healing and do not depend on medical health facilities, by restricting church attendance to the vaccinated members these churches are forbidden to attend church,” said Sarah Njanji of Epworth.

However, the restrictions might prove to be a waste of time considering that congregations like the Johanne Marange Apostolic Church (the sect constituting the largest chunk of the country’s apostolic believers) do not believe in biomedical health and have consistently defied every manner of Covid-19 preventive measures.

Additionally, the fact that intercity travel is now allowed and in most cases with people using public transport without the vaccination cards exposes the fallacy behind the no jab, no church rule. In market places in Harare like Mbare Mupedzanhamo, people are always crowded as they buy their food and clothes without even proving that they are vaccinated. This fact highlights the extent to which the no jab, no church rule is perceived as a violation of the freedom of religious association.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted normal life and most governments around the world have come up with emergency measures and regulations that are meant to protect the public from the deadly disease.  However, the measures have to strike a balance between objectives of public safety and respect of fundamental rights like

Vice President and Health Minister Constantine Chiwenga displays a Covid-19 vaccination card. (File pic)

the freedom of worship.








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Chief Editor: Earnest Mudzengi Content Editor: Willie Gwatimba