'Council moots open-air worship ban'

CITY of Harare will soon put a new by-law that prohibits worshiping in open spaces, save for only those with council permits.

Those issued with permits would be expected to provide ablution facilities and potable water at the proposed site which will be inspected by an environmental health officer.

The City Fathers, guided by the Public Health and Environmental Act, have the discretion to approve or decline any application.
According to the abridged draft by-law, worship time would be set between 1000 hours and 1800 hours.

According to a report compiled by director of housing and community services Josephine Ncube, the control of worship in open spaces by-laws of 2015 would address the increasingly problematic menace of open space worship.

The report states that among some of the problems faced with the practice are lack of time regulation which would find worshippers at a given space all day.

“During discussion it was noted that the main problems associated with open space worship were absence of running water and ablution facilities, noise pollution and an injudicious cutting down of trees,” Ncube said in the report.

But Madzibaba Phillip Nhira, who has been operating his church which has little more than 50 people for the past three years at an open space along Willowvale Road said council, cannot just evict them from the space they worship on because they have not done anything wrong.

Nhira said during their annual conferences, his church members spend up to three days at the open space which has no running water or toilets. They just install make-shift bathrooms, while water is found at taps in near-by Gunhill or other premises.
“Chinoitika ndechekuti kana wauya kuchurch hauchabve pano kusvika tapedza. Vanhu vanotouya nemvura dzavo (We have rules whereby once you arrive here, you cannot leave the church, so most congregants bring their own water),” Nhira said.
He said people relieve themselves and bath in the Blair toilets that they construct at the church site.

Itai Rusike, Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director told the Weekend Post that the provision of sanitation and safe water is critical for open space worship as it reduces diarrheal diseases since members resort to using the bush system.

He, however, said this new by-law is most likely going to be ignored by those who conduct open space worship as the city has a tendency to selectively apply its by-laws depending on the political situation.

“The city council has a duty and power to set standards and codes of practice and ensuring enforcement through inspection.
“Unfortunately, the selective application of the by-laws is our biggest undoing in an effort to address public health threats.
“Some innovative churches have resorted to raising a flag of a certain political party at their places of worship and they automatically become untouchable even if they do not have the authority of the said political party to do so,” Rusike said.
Rusike said while the by-law is timely, it lacks enforcement and the equal application of the law.

“Council should therefore strengthen devices to deal with and prevent unauthorised open space worship by putting mechanisms including regulation to minimise contamination of the environment.”—Helen Kadirire

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