Madzibaba Ishmael denied bail

By Staff Reporter

Madzibaba Ishmael has been denied bail by a Norton magistrate who ruled the powerful sect leader’s release could ignite a public outcry.

The 56-year-old religious leader, full name Ishmael Chokurongerwa was arrested last week on suspected child abuse when police found 251 minors working on his farm.

He also faces crimes related to illegal burials at his shrine after authorities found 16 unregistered graves.

Chokurongerwa appeared before a Norton magistrate on Tuesday along with seven of his church members who also face similar charges. They were not asked to plead.

Denying them bail, Norton magistrate Christine Nyandoro argued that Chokurongerwa could use his influence to interfere with witnesses and that there would be a public outcry if he was released.

The suspects have been charged with violating the Burial and Cremation Act and the Children’s Act, after police found 251 school-age children doing manual labour at their farm, as well as 16 unregistered graves.

All eight will remain in custody until April 4, when the next hearing is scheduled, said the magistrate.

Chokurongerwa was identified by police as a leader in the Johane Masowe or “white garment” church, whose followers have previously been accused of abuse of women and children in Zimbabwe.

Around a dozen members of the church, dressed in white, attended the hearing on Tuesday but declined to speak to journalists.

Chokurongerwa, who wore a towel over his head to cover his face, also did not speak.

The suspects’ lawyer, Purity Chikangaise, said she would appeal the bail ruling at the High Court.

“We are going to appeal the decision by the court. Facts must be tested on trial,” she said.

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