by John Matshikiza ("The Mail & Guardian" [Johannesburg], March 31, 2000)
Johannesburg - 'God gave Noah the rainbow sign:/'No more water, the fire next time!'" So run the words of the old Negro spiritual.
The conflagration that consumed the bodies of some 500 members of an obscure Ugandan Christian cult which called itself the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments last week produced a sense of shock and revulsion across Uganda. The horrific images of charred bodies piled against sealed exits and scattered around the burnt-out church building were broadcast across the world.
Bad news makes good news. After Idi Amin and Aids, here was another horror story out of Uganda. European, American and even Australian news crews descended on the hapless village of Kanungu to report on the unfathomable depths of the tragedy.
But was that terrible mass immolation really unfathomable? Apart from its similarity to the paths chosen by other doomsday cults across the world (and this Ugandan tragedy might yet outstrip the 914 deaths by suicide and murder at the "People's Temple" at Jones-town in Guyana in 1978), the vengeful conflagration at Kanungu might be looked upon as a further act in Uganda's turbulent relationship with imported religions, particularly the various branches of Christianity. Deep in the psychological recesses of the country's religious personality, there lurks a disturbing memory from the earliest days of Christian proselytising in the area.
Uganda is the only African country that boasts a roster of 22 saints, canonised by the late pope Paul VI in 1964. The 22 men in question were among several hundred Ugandans martyred for their nascent religious faith in the 1880s. They met their deaths by hacking, bludgeoning - or in fiery pits to which they were consigned by the ruling monarch of the dominant kingdom, the kabaka of Buganda.
When the first Christian missionaries arrived in Buganda in 1877, they found the Islamic faith already established at the court of Kabaka Mutesa I. Islam had been imported by Arab and Swahili traders from the coastal region, and was a first introduction to literacy for the Baganda.
By the time the first Christian missionaries arrived, however, Mutesa had begun to resent the strict letter of Islamic law that was now being imposed by a group of Muslim fundamentalists who had recently arrived from Egypt. This new brand of Islam would not allow any compromise with the existing religious beliefs of the Baganda.
According to Muganda law, the kabaka's blood could not be shed. The king, therefore, could not be circumcised, as demanded by Islamic law. This meant that religious observances that had been led by the king under a more easygoing Muslim regime, including the slaughter of livestock for human consumption, could no longer be accepted as being carried out by a true Muslim. The meat of beasts slain by the kabaka could no longer be considered halaal.
The kabaka's more devout Muslim subjects, including some of his own courtiers, began to refuse to eat meat slaughtered by the king. This constituted treason, and the kabaka had no alternative but to order the killing of more than 70 of his rebellious subjects at the execution hill of Namugongo.
The arrival of Anglican missionaries in 1877 promised the king some respite from his troubles, since this new religion did not appear to impose such strict and personally insulting conditions. However, the appearance at court of a rival group of Catholic missionaries a few months later introduced further complexities.
The two Christian groups fell into bitter conflict over potential converts, their different of interpretations of the same Bible too subtle for the king to comprehend. He allowed both groups to continue to function, but refrained from being personally baptised into either faction.
Mutesa's son, Mwanga, inherited this kingdom of conflicting religions in 1884. By this time, it had begun to seem as if all these seemingly benign foreign influences, Islamic and Christian alike, were advance guards for forces attempting to colonise the lands of the Baganda. Mwanga's reign began in an atmosphere of justifiable paranoia.
And yet he, like his father, had encouraged the young men of the court, and the chiefs of the outlying districts, to adopt the new religions in the interests of education and worldly enlightenment. Now the beast whose crea- tion he had encouraged began to turn on him.
In public, today's Baganda explain the martyrdom of the young men of the kabaka's court in terms of a religious/political conflict: in accepting the higher authority of God, they deni-grated the ultimate authority of the monarch, and had to be put to death.
In private, a darker story emerges. Kabaka Mwanga, it is said, took it as his right to have sexual relations with his courtiers.
When these young men, inspired by the teachings of the new religions, refused to comply, the kabaka's rage was as much due to personal slight as to a perceived contempt for the head of state.
Whatever the case, the young men in question were arrested and called upon to renounce the religion that had led them into this defiance. When they refused, they were marched to the execution grounds of Namugongo, where they were given a further seven days' grace, while the execution fire was being prepared in a specially dug pit. The young converts stuck to their faith.
At dawn on June 3 1886, the furnace was lit. The unrepentant believers were bound up in reed mats and thrown on to the flames. It is said that they clasped their hands and sang the hymns of their new-found faith until the flames consumed them. (Of the dozens, perhaps hundreds of Baganda who suffered this fate, only the 22 Catholic converts who died on that day were canonised. The rest remain rank-and- file martyrs.)
Today's Christian texts in Uganda describe the ordeal of those early martyrs as a "true baptism of fire and spirit."
The motives of whoever ordered the latest Ugandan holocaust remain obscure. And yet, in some awful way at Kanungu last week, that motif of the early Ugandan martyrs was brought to terrible life once more.
(Panafrican News Agency, March 31, 2000)
Kampala, Uganda (PANA) - The police in Uganda now fear that the exact number of people killed by the leaders of a religious sect in south-western Uganda might never be known.
In the latest development, police Thursday unearthed 81 bodies, including those of 44 children, on the property of a member of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, identified as Joseph Nyamurinda.
Twenty-seven girls, 17 boys and 33 women were among the bodies pulled out from a large hole in the garden of the house.
Nyamurinda's house is in Rushojwa, about 35 km north-east of Kanungu, in neighbouring Bushenyi district. The mass grave is the fifth to be discovered since the 17 March fire in Kanungu, the cult's headquarters, which killed over 530 people.
Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that cult leader, Joseph Kibwetere, was a hospitalised mental patient until less than two years ago.
"He had an affective disorder. A cyclical thing. Up and down. Like manic depress," Dr. Fred Kigozi, executive director of Kampala's Butabika mental hospital, told a Kampala daily.
He said Kibwetere suffered from a serious mental illness that required him to be institutionalised for treatment.
Kigozi added that Kibwetere was released sometime in 1998.
Medical experts say manic depression, also known as bipolar mood disorder in its more severe forms, causes a person to lose contact with reality and experience false beliefs, especially of grandeur ("I am the president"), ("I am God"). It could also be of a sexual nature or the patient could hear voices and see visions.
The illness also causes deep depression and suicide is the most common cause of death for people with manic depression.
Experts say that people with the illness are not aware of their actions and don't realise they are sick.
The illness can be treated but medical experts say if not diagnosed and treated, the impact of the illness can be devastating to the individual, others and society in general.
Kibwetere never returned to the hospital for treatment after being released.
by Craig Nelson (Associated Press, March 31, 2000)
KABUMBA, Uganda (March 31) - Ugandan police revised the number of deaths linked to a Christian doomsday sect to 924 today, surpassing the 1978 Jonestown tragedy and making it one of the largest cult-related killings in history.
Investigators have yet to search a fifth cult compound believed to hold more victims. They canceled today's search of the site, deep in a rainforest near the Ruwenzori Mountians along the Congolese border, until they have the proper equipment, said police spokesman Eric Naigambi.
The death toll rose after police re-estimated those killed in the March 17 church fire that first revealed the deadly activities of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.
Authorities initially reported at least 330 charred bodies inside the ruins of the makeshift church in Kanunga. Today, they said they had confirmed that at least 530 people perished in what was believed to have been a gasoline-fueled inferno inside the sealed church.
Subsequent searches of three other sect compounds unearthed mass graves yielding victims apparently killed after what had been the cult's Dec. 31 deadline for the world to end. Some of the victims appeared to have been knifed or strangled. Hundreds were children.
The toll surpasses the November 1978 Peoples Temple tragedy. The Jonestown mass suicide and killings claimed 913 lives in the jungles of Guyana, including that of U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan, journalists and a handful of defectors shot to death as they tried to board a flight out of the jungle.
Ugandan police are pursuing international arrest warrants for Joseph Kibwetere, Credonia Mwerinde and three other suspected cult leaders. It's not clear if any or all escaped the mass graves and the inferno that followed. Who led the cult and whether or not they escaped with the wealth they amassed from cult members remain some of the key questions in the investigation. While Mwerinde was officially only one of the cult's ``12 Apostles,'' inside the sect she was known as ``The Programmer'' and her power was unchallenged, says Therese Kibwetere, Joseph Kibwetere's estranged wife. ``Whenever anything was to be done, it was Credonia,'' she said.
Joseph Kibwetere, 64, is believed by some of his family members to have perished in the church fire, although other reports have said he could have escaped. Mwerinde's whereabouts at the time of the fire are unknown. Kibwetere, Mwerinde and other sect leaders had predicted that the world would end last Dec. 31. When that didn't happen, authorities believe members demanded the return of possessions they had surrendered to join the sect, rebelled and were slaughtered.
Mwerinde's former common-law husband Eric Mazima challenged her carefully cultivated image as a religious devotee. He said it was only after the
couple's joint business went bankrupt that she claimed to have seen an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a cave in southwestern Ugandan.
Until then, he said, she ran a shop in Kanunga that sold banana beer and a fiery local liquor. Press accounts have frequently referred to her as a prostitute, but Mazima and residents say that while notoriously promiscuous, Mwerinde was not paid for sex.
The leadership of the Ten Commandments Movement was largely a family affair, Mazima said, with relatives of the 48-year-old Mwerinde serving as four of the sect's ``12 Apostles.''
Four months after leaving her husband, Mwerinde met Kibwetere in Nyamitanga, where he and his wife had gone to hear her testify about her visions. Juvenal Mugambwa, Kibwetere's son, said Mwerinde told his father the Virgin Mary had directed her to Nyamitanga to find a man called ``Kibwetere,'' who would take them to his home where they would spread her message to the world. That evening, Kibwetere brought Mwerinde, her sister and two other friends home with him to Kabumba.
Within days, Kibwetere and his wife had moved into a room with Mwerinde and the three other women. Therese Kibwetere said she was denied any sexual contact with her husband. Mugambwa believes his father and Mwerinde had a sexual relationship. According to Mugambwa and his mother, Mwerinde would explode in rages, beat Kibwetere's children and demand total obedience - all the while saying she spoke directly for the Virgin Mary.
After a few months, talking was banned in favor of sign language, Mugambwa said. Meals were cut from three to two, with two days of fasting each week. The house swelled with the movement's adherents, mothers were separated from their children.
Mwerinde often retired alone to a room to write and receive ``programs from the Virgin Mary,'' Mugambwe says. She would then emerge with the declaration: ``I've been receiving messages from God that the Virgin Mary is annoyed. People are sinning too much and God is going to end the world because of the sins.''
Mugambwe said Mwerinde beat his sisters and forced 60 children to live in a 15-by-40-foot backyard shed. The windows were nailed shut and the children forced to sleep on the dirt floor. They frequently were infected with scabies. Mugambwa became her enemy.
``When I offered them sweets, they refused, making a sign that I was Satan,'' he said.
After three years of abuse, Kibwetere's extended family forced Mwerinde and the three women from the house. Kibwetere went with them. They moved to Kanungu, Mwerinde's hometown, where Kibwetere donned a bishop's ring and church vestments. Kibwetere, an excommunicated Roman Catholic, never spoke to his family again.
Left behind on a wall mantel in Therese Kibwetere's home is a framed printed version of what she said was her husband's favorite prayer ``Oh Lord God: Help me keep my big mouth shut until I know what I am talking about.''
(Associated Press, March 31, 2000)
A brief look at the leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God:
JOSEPH KIBWETERE: Kibwetere is a former school administrator who had a lifelong interest in Catholic visionaries. The 64-year-old has been widely touted as the leader of the Movement. Also known as ``The Prophet,'' he was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.
Kibwetere met Credonia Mwerinde in Nyamitanga, Uganda, where he and his wife had gone to hear her testify about her visions of the Virgin Mary. He took Mwerinde into his home, which served as the cult's compound for three years..
After relocating to Mwerinde's hometown of Kanungu, Uganda, Kibwetere became a self-styled bishop, donning a bishop's ring and vestments. He never spoke to his family again.
Kibwetere is believed by some members of his family to have perished in a March 17 church fire with hundreds of other cult members. Other reports have said he could have escaped.
CREDONIA MWERINDE: On Aug. 24, 1988, Mwerinde claimed to have had a vision of the Virgin Mary in a cave near the Ugandan village of Ngakishenyi. Within the cult, she was known as ``The Programmer'' and claimed to have direct contact with God and the Virgin Mary.
Her former common-law husband said that before her vision, Mwerinde ran a shop that sold banana beer and a fiery local liquor. Press accounts have referred to her as a prostitute, but residents say that while promiscuous, the 48-year-old was not paid for sex.
According to Kibwetere's family, Mwerinde was the true leader of the cult. She and four relatives were said to be five of the sect's ``12 Apostles.''
Her whereabouts at the time of the church fire are unknown.
DOMINIC KATARIBABO: At least 155 bodies were found in two graves on land owned by the excommunicated Roman Catholic priest.
Kataribabo studied for a doctorate in theology in a Los Angeles-area seminary in the mid-1980s, said one of his nephews. He later got into trouble with his diocese in Uganda for how he used donations collected in Los Angeles and for his interest in Mwerinde and her visions.
Kataribabo, 32, became a leader in the sect soon after he was excommunicated in the early 1990s. He taught seminars at the church compound in Kanungu covering the cult's prophecies on righteous living and the end of the world.
His family told police that Kataribabo had been digging a pit to install a refrigerator in his house. Police found 81 bodies under the floor and 74 more in a sugarcane field outside.
Police believe Kataribabo died in the church fire, citing as evidence a clerical collar found on one of the bodies.
(Agence France Presse, March 31, 2000)
RUSHOJWA, Uganda, March 31 (AFP) - Ugandan police headed Friday to yet another possible mass grave as the country began asking what turned a seemingly straightforward religious order into a murderous cult.
Almost 800 members of the doomsday cult were killed steadily over several months in southwestern Uganda, cumulating on March 17 in a massive fire at a church in Kanungu, in which some 400 followers perished.
The death toll could still rise further as investigators were due to travel to Kyata, near Fort Portal, to search another property owned by the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult, a police spokesman had said.
Police announced Friday that they had detained a second person for interrogation in relation to the massacre, the world's worst cult killing since 1978 when 912 people died in "Jonestown" in the jungles of Guyana.
Joseph Ssettuba Ssemande, alias "The Bishop" was arrested in Kijjumba village in the southwestern Rakai district on the basis that some of his relatives were cult members, deputy police spokesman John Kimera, reached by telephone in Kampala, said.
Police arrested on Wednesday the assistant president district commissioner for Kanungu, Amooti Mutazindwa, on suspicion that he suppressed an intelligence report which indicated the cult was a security risk.
There are growing questions over how the cult leaders could have killed so many people undetected and how the leaders of what was originally a straightforward reformist branch of the Roman Catholic Church could have wrecked such devastation.
The movement, headed by Joseph Kibsetere and his "damned soul" Credonia Mwerinde, was legally registered in Kanungu in 1989 as a non-governmental organisation.
The cult initially showed a certain degree of obediance to the Catholic Church while affirming its reformist attitude, according to a priest, Father Paul Ikasire, who briefly belonged to the movement.
"All the time that I was a member, there was never any violence or deprivations," Ikasire, who was a member from 1990 to 1994, told AFP.
"But from 1993 onwards, things started to go downhill. It was no longer the religion of the Pope, of Christ. They didn't even respect the Ten Commandments and imposed things that weren't in the Church," he continued.
After Ikasire left, Kibwetere became increasingly extreme and openly rejected any links with Catholicism.
"Sister" Credonia imposed more and more strict rules in the name of the Virgin May or Jesus, whom she claimed appeared to her regularly. All members were required to sell their possessions for the good of the movement.
The cult first predicted the world would end in 1992 but when the date passed uneventfully, they picked December 31, 1999 as their new doomsday.
Several Ugandan newspapers have speculated that the killing began when the cult's members doubted their leaders' authority after the world continued turning.
But how did the group's activities go unnoticed? People living near to the cult's properties, sometimes as close as 30 metres (yards), swear they never saw or heard anything suspicious.
The group are also believed to have ducked official inquiries after members in administrative posts sat on reports that the cult was dangerous.
President Yoweri Museveni admitted Thursday that intelligence reports about the dangers of the cult had been ignored and said he thought people had not checked up on the group because they were "religious people." A local council chairman, Lauben Kapere, said he drafted a report last August calling for cult members to be expelled after a child died and was buried without his family being informed. The document was ignored, he said.
According to the New Vision daily, Kibwetere also regularly invited politicians and high-ranking local officials to parties over the last two years and lavished them with gifts, including heads of cattle.
(BBC, March 31, 2000)
Ugandan police are continuing the search for more mass graves containing victims of the doomsday cult whose leaders are believed to have killed almost 900 people.
On Thursday, police unearthed another 81 corpses at a grave site in Rushojwa in the south-west of the country.
Police suspect the leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments have been killing followers for months, after a prediction that the world would end failed to come true.
Neighbours have found it hard to believe what has happened in their villages The total number of dead now rivals that of the worst ever cult mass murder - the Jonestown cult massacre in Guyana in 1978.
As police continue the hunt for bodies in Uganda, an international search is under way for four of the cult's leaders.
International search warrants are reported to have been lodged with Interpol for Joseph Kibweteere, Credonia Mwerinde, Ursula Komuhangi, Henry Byarugaba and Dominic Kataribabo.
The latest cult victims were discovered at the house of cult member Joseph Nyamurinda.
Police said 45 of the 81 corpses were children, and almost all of the rest were women.
Police pathologist Thaddeus Barungi said those found in Rushojwa had died in the past month.
"For only two of them I can tell with certainty how they died, by strangulation. For some of the other ones, there are no signs of physical trauma. I suspect poison."
Police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi said he had received information that the site had been used as a cult branch for three years.
"The guy left three days before the church inferno in Kanungu with 18 members of his family," Mr Mugenyi said.
He said that Nyamurinda and all his family are believed to have died in the fire in Kanungu, where at least 330 bodies were discovered on 17 March.
Kanungu was the first site to be examined and police say they plan to return there to check reports that more bodies are buried there.
People who live in Rushojwa said they regularly saw cult members going back and forth, that the strangers were polite and no one was suspicious. One local man said that cult members had erected a fence of palm matting around the yard so no one could see in.
"These people were very secretive. They did not even allow the neighbours, who are mainly members of their family, to approach the house," said Mr Barungi.
This is the fifth mass grave to be discovered by investigators.
Government official arrested
Police say they have arrested a regional government official in connection with their investigations into the cult deaths.
The official, Amooti Mutazindwa, who is the assistant resident district commissioner for Kanungu, is suspected of being a member of the cult.
He is also alleged to have helped in the registration of the cult.
"He is in custody and he is helping police with investigations," said police spokesman John Kimera.
by Ian Fisher ("The New York Times", March 31, 2000)
USHOJWA, Uganda, March 30 -- The carnage in Uganda deepened again today as investigators unearthed 81 more bodies at the home here of a member of a doomsday cult. Of the dead, packed tight in a mass grave dug deeply into red soil, 44 were children.
Today was the fourth day in a row that the police here pulled rotting corpses from the ground, as the death toll since March 17 rose to at least 725, with at least 229 of them being children. The discoveries now follow a depressing pattern: The bodies, here as elsewhere, were naked and had been dead for about a month. Some showed signs of strangulation but many showed no marks at all.
Perhaps most perplexing for investigators was that neighbors here -- who live within a few feet of the small hilltop compound owned by one of the cult elders -- said they saw or heard nothing that would make them suspect people were being killed. Night Nalongo, 22, who is married to the nephew of the house's owner, said she often tried to peek inside because she was suspicious of the comings and goings of the people who came to stay there.
But she said she saw nothing, heard no screams and, until today, when the police dug up the bodies, did not smell rotting flesh. The house had been empty since the last of the members left on March 15 -- two days before more than 300 cult members, who believed the world was ending, died in a fire at a church in Kanungu, some 20 miles to the southwest of here.
"They said they were going to a place where they would be taken to heaven,"
Ms. Nalongo, who did not belong to the cult, said today.
Investigators -- overwhelmed and undertrained for the massive task before them -- originally said they believed the church deaths were a mass suicide.
But since then, they have uncovered bodies at three more sites, many of them with cords or banana leaves tied around their necks.
They are now treating the deaths as murder cases, and say it is possible the leaders of the cult, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, are still alive. But they have yet to speculate publicly on how so many people could have been killed and buried -- with no one apparently knowing about it.
In an interview late on Wednesday, the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, said the group had been investigated several times by local officials, who he said "sat on" the reports. "Some intelligence officers filed reports saying that this is a dangerous group but at one level it was not forwarded, it was just ignored," Mr. Museveni told the BBC in London. He said that he had ordered an investigation to determine why the reports were not taken more seriously.
On Wednesday, the police detained one local official accused of suppressing those reports, the Rev. Amooti Mutazindwa, an assistant district commissioner in southwest Uganda suspected of having strong links to the cult. He was not apparently charged with any crime, though officials said they hoped he could provide information on the cult's activities and the whereabouts of any of its living leaders.
A local official here, Kapere Lauben, said he had initiated an investigation of the group, in response to people's concerns about the number of children in the house here without parents and about the frequent comings and goings of cult members to the house. Most of them, he said, were women and children.
"Their moves were so frequent," Mr. Lauben, the chairman of the area, said.
"You would find them there today. Tomorrow you would find an empty household."
He said he first visited the house last April, asking to speak with the owners and to see their credentials. He said the cult was investigated at two higher governmental levels, called the parish and the sub-county, though he said no action was taken as far as he knew. "I didn't see anything," he said.
The house here, on a hill surrounded by banana trees and fields for growing vegetables, was owned by Joseph Nyamurinda, described as an elderly and fervent member of the sect. The grave was discovered behind the middle of three small buildings, next to a grove of banana trees.
Inside, the police found 3 adult males, 33 women, 27 girls and 17 boys, according to the Ugandan police department's only pathologist, Thaddeus Barungi. The gender of one body could not be determined.
At least one of the main leaders, Credonia Mwerinde -- a woman who claimed to have visions of the Virgin Mary -- stayed at the house from time to time, Ms.
Nalongo said. She also said that Ms. Mwerinde tried to get her to join the cult, but only if she would sell her property and had more than 250,000 Ugandan shillings, about $175.
Neighbors said that last September, the cult members opened a small shop in a nearby village, selling their clothes at cheap prices. Then recently, Ms.
Nalongo said, they stopped cultivating the fields, where they grew cassava, beans and potatoes. "They would say, 'Now we are going to heaven. There is no need to dig,' " she said. She also said that a pickup truck often came to the house in the middle of the night, in January and February, leading her and others in the village to now believe that the victims buried here were killed elsewhere.
Late in the afternoon, after the bodies were reburied in the grave after quick autopsies, Peter Muhumuza, a nephew of the owner, locked up the house and spoke briefly about his own tragedy: His wife Florence and their five children apparently died in the church fire. He lives and works in the capital city, Kampala, about six hours away, and said his family joined the cult secretly. He too said he could not understand how so many people could die without anyone finding out until now. "I think they were poisoned," he said. "You can't kill those people without alarm."
by Karl Vick ("The Washington Post", March 31, 2000)
RUSHOJWA, Uganda, March 30 - Police pulled another 81 bodies--most of them women and children--from yet another mass grave today on a property associated with the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God doomsday cult.
The corpses were unearthed on a remote farm owned by a cult lay leader and brought the total number of dead to 725 since March 17, when 330 charred bodies were found in a makeshift church that had been burned down. A search of a newly dug latrine on that property turned up six more bodies, a second compound produced 153, and property owned by a church leader this week yielded another 155.
Many of the bodies showed signs of strangulation, but most were reburied almost immediately without establishing cause of death. Ugandan authorities did, however, take tissue samples, and they said at least one more cult site remains to be searched.
"Me, I think they were poisoned," said Peter Muhumuza, 32, whose house adjoins the cult property here and whose wife and five children were thought to be among the dead. "You can't kill this many people without an alarm."
Police bearing shovels arrived at the farm of Joseph Nymurinda, an elderly layman described as a cult leader, one day after dismissing as unpromising the grounds of a nearby home shared by two former Catholic priests who were cult members. Like the other sites, the Nymurinda compound is situated high in the scenic hills of southwestern Uganda, a fertile area of tidy homes and lush subsistence farms.
Neighbors said that for the last three years, cult members have worked Nymurinda's bean, cassava and banana plants. Up to two dozen believers often could be seen on the grounds, but residents said they were unsettled by the fact that the faces changed so frequently.
"Their moves were so funny," said Kapere Laubel, chairman of the local council. "You'd find them there one day, then the next day the house would be empty. Then the next day new people would be there."
Many children were present, Laubel said, but their parents were said to be at the group's other compounds. The situation stirred Laubel to lodge a complaint about the group with his superiors last April. But after cult leaders produced identification for the residents and a copy of the group's registration, he said, the matter was dropped.
"We were suspicious--one, about their movements; two, they could not talk.
Only their leader [spoke]. They used signs . . . pantomime," Laubel said.
Neighbors said that a pickup truck routinely arrived at the property in the dead of night. Laubel said the vehicle was said to be delivering supplies for a shop the cult had set up on the main road, but he now suspects it was delivering bodies.
Night Nalongo, whose house stands barely 20 yards from the mass grave here, said the 2 a.m. truck visits increased to at least twice a week starting in January. The timing is intriguing. Cult leaders had predicted the world would end on Dec. 31, and when it did not, they were confronted with refund demands from believers, who had been instructed to sell their earthly goods and hand over the proceeds.
At about the same time, Nalongo said, a high fence was erected around the area where the mass grave was found. Nalongo said the fence was pulled down and burned March 15, the day the most latest group of residents left saying they were going to the "new world."
In Kanungu, about a two-hour drive southwest of here, the church--and the cult members in it--burned two days later, in the midst of what organizers had told officials would be a "party."
Ugandan authorities announced today that a local official in Kanungu has been detained for questioning. The arrest came as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni complained in a BBC interview that government intelligence reports on the cult had been ignored or suppressed.
Meanwhile, police said they have issued international arrest warrants for the cult's principal leaders, Credonia Mwerinde, 40, and Joseph Kibwetere, 68.
by Moses Sserwanga ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 31, 2000)
The Kanungu cult leaders sponsored spiritual programmes on Voice of Toro, a commercial FM station based in Fort Portal, promoting their 10 commandments philosophy.
The New Vision has established that the doomsday cult leaders started running the programme in early December till the week preceding the murder of at least 600 followers at the cult's church in Kanungu on March 17.
Sources said the cult leaders, now wanted by the Police for criminal charges, paid sh70,000 for each 10 - 15 minute programmes.
The programmes run three times a week, costing sh210,000 a week.
This meant that at the time of the Kanungu massacre, the cult leaders, led by Joseph Kibwetere, had spent over sh3m on the programmes.
The religious programmes used to run on Mondays, Tuesdays at 8.00pm and on Saturdays at 8.45a.m.
The New Vision has learnt that the Rev. Fr. Kasapurari, an excommunicated Catholic priest, preached the cult's doctrine of the world coming to an end and recorded the programmes in his own sharp voice.
Kasapurari is said to have recorded the programmes at his home near Kitabi Seminary in Bushenyi district.
Lawrence Rupiha, an employee of Radio Uganda, was the producer of the programmes recorded in Runyoro - Rutooro - Runyankore Rukiga dialect.
Sources said the Rev Fr. Dominic Kataribaabo, who is one of the senior cult leaders, negotiated with the radio's sales representatives in Kampala for the programmes to be aired at a "reasonable fee".
"They approached us in a humble way. They said they wanted to spread the Word of God and were willing to pay a small fee. We would have charged them sh150,000 per programme but they pleaded with us, saying they were doing the work of God and did not have a lot of money. That's why we settled for the sh70.000 per programme," a source at radio's marketing department in Kampala said yesterday.
All the programmes were paid for including one that was to be broadcast on March 17. A manager, Perez Tinkasimire, said the programmes were run "after serious consideration". "We did not find any criminal material in them. It was purely religious, stressing the Ten Commandments philosophy.
"I'm an Anglican but I liked the way these people preached," he said.
Listeners want to buy the programme tapes but the radio has not granted this.
("New Vision" [Kampala], March 31, 2000)
RUSHOJWA, Uganda, Thursday - Ugandan police said here on Thursday they had unearthed a total of 81 bodies, including those of 44 children, on the property of a member of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult.
Twenty-seven girls, 17 boys, 33 women, and three men were among the bodies pulled out from a large hole in the garden of a house belonging to cult member Joseph Nyamurinda.
The sex of one of the corpses could not be determined.
Police said there were no other graves at the site, although not all of the property had been examined closely.
The house is located on the edge of the southwestern village of Rushojwa, which is 35 kilometers (22 miles) northeast of Kanungu, where some 400 cult members died in a fire on March 17.
The corpses were immediately re-buried nearby after a brief autopsy.
The cult had already been blamed for the deaths of over 700 people in southwest Uganda. Police pathologist Thaddeus Barungi said those found in Rushojwa had died "not more than one month ago. For only two of them I can tell with certainty how they died, by strangulation. For some of the other ones, there are no signs of physical trauma. I suspect poison."
"Some of them, very few, they have (ropes of) dried banana leaves tied around the neck and mainly for the others it is green pieces of cloth twisted and tied around the neck," he said.
The total number of dead so far recovered has reached 929.
About 540 were burnt in Kanungu, 153 were recovered elsewhere, 81 were at Kataribaabo's house and 74 in the compound.
Yesterday, another 81 bodies were found in Rushoja by the Police.
by John Kakande ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 31, 2000)
Nuns belonging to Joseph Kibwetere's doomsday cult used to prepare meals for the embattled assistant Resident District Commissioner, the Rev. Richard Mutazindwa, at his residence at Kanungu, the Kinkinzi east MP, Dr Stanley Kinyata, has said.
Kinyata, addressing a press conference at Parliament yesterday, said Mutazindwa once told him that the doomsday cult members were good and that their nuns at times cooked for him.
Kinyata said the cult responsible for the systematic, clandestine and mystifying mass murder of at least 929 people, had branches in Rwanda and Tanzania and was trying to set up one in Kenya.
Kanungu is part of Kinkinzi East constituency represented by Kinyata.
"I did not get complaints about the cult, except from the GISO, Godfrey Karabenda. The GISO said he had written a report to the district but it was ignored," Kinyata said.
"I talked to Mutazindwa who said the cult members were good people. He told me their nuns cooked food for him at his residence," he said.
He said Kanungu, the scene of the March 17 mass murder, was about a kilometre away from Mutazindwa's official residence.
Kinyata said as a result of Mutazindwa's close links with the cult, many people from Kabarole joined it and are feared to have perished in the Kanungu inferno.
He urged the Government to banish Balokole (Christian born-again) sects. He said the followers of these sects should return to their original mainstream churches.
"If I had the power, I would outlaw these cults and sects and leave only the mainstream churches and Muslims," he said.
"The First Lady should go back to her mainstream church. The Balokole churches are exploiting our people," Kinyata said.
First Lady Janet Museveni is a born-again Christian.
by Eddie Ssejjoba ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 31, 2000)
The Rev. Richard Mutazindwa, the assistant RDC Rakai, who allegedly failed to act on information about the activities of the Kanungu cult, and went missing, has been arrested by the Police.
Mutazindwa was picked up from his home in Lyantonde, Kabule in Rakai by regional Police chiefs Benson Nyeko and Joel Okwir. Mutazindwa was driven in his vehicle to Masaka from where he was transferred to Kampala.
A Police spokesman, Erick Naigambi, confirmed the arrest, which was effected on March 29, a day after Mutazindwa attended a district security meeting at the district headquarters.
He was put to task to explain his long absence from office and his alleged connection to the Kanungu cult.
Security officials said Mutazindwa said he did not receive any information about the cult.
Naigambi, however, said the defence was inadequate to get Mutazindwa freed.
State minister for internal affairs Sarah Kiyingi said Mutazindwa would help with Police inquiry.
by Eddie Ssejjoba and Dismus Buregyeya ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 31, 2000)
One of the suspected leaders of the Kanungu doomsday cult has been arrested in Rakai.
Joseph Ssettuba Ssemmande alias Bishop, was arrested last week by the Police from his home in Kijjumba village, Kifamba sub- county, Rakai.
He was arrested for allegedly involving himself in mobilising people to attend the Kanungu cult feast of March 17 in which about 530 worshippers died in a fire.
The deputy regional CID officer, Steven Kanuma, said Ssettuba had been transferred from Kalisizo Police Station to the regional headquarters in Masaka for interrogation. He said the Police were trying to establish if he was one of the cult leaders.
Ssettuba, who lost six children and his wife Margaret Nakawooya in the inferno, was arrested together with Jane Kassande.
They are said to have hosted cult leaders Joseph Kibwetere and Dominic Kataribaabo for a month and moved with them, mobilising residents to register for cult worship.
Kassande was released on Police bond.
The Police said Kibwetere and other cult leaders used to live in the home of Mary Najjemba, who later deserted the cult because they persuaded her to sell off her property. Ssettuba is said to have told Police that he did not go to Kanungu because he wanted to stay home and look after the animals. He gave sh40,000 to the family to travel to Rukungiri.
The Police have also searched another vegetarian cult in Kabira sub-county in Rakai. The cult, "Sserulanda Nsula Ya Bulamu," is led by the self-exiled founder Bambi Baaba Mugonza.
Resident District Commissioner Mary Frances Owor said Mugonza exiled himself in the US after he was accused of exhuming bodies of his ancestors.
Gertrude Njuba, wife of MP Sam Njuba, is an active member.
Meanwhile, Owor has said the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult is dominated by the Banyarwanda.
She said in her office on Monday that she was worried about the cult, which is gaining support from mainly Rwandans in Rakai.
She said most of the the people from Rakai confirmed dead in the Kanungu tragedy were of Rwandan origin.
Owor said when Sidona Kyinkuhaire, a leader of another sect, first arrived in Rakai, she ganged up with the late wife of Kooki county Member of Parliament Gabriel Lukwago. Kyinkuhaire is believed to be of Rwandan origin.
Owor said Kyinkuhaire took over leadership of the Virgin Mary sect in Mbuye from Specioza Mukantabana.
Kyinkuhaire is a close friend of Joseph Kibwetere, the leader of the Kanungu cult, said to have murdered up to 930 followers.
("New Vision" [Kampala], March 31, 2000)
Kigali, Thursday - The Rwandan authorities have expressed concern over the number of religious sects in the country and have vowed to monitor them.
Speaking in connection with the deaths of members of a doomsday cult in neighbouring Uganda, Justice Minister Jean de Dieu Mucyo said there had been "so many court wrangles" between sect leaders over property and finances.
"Unless steps are taken to prevent this, we could easily have the same problem as Ugandans have had," he warned, according to the Rwanda News Agency (RNA).
"Those sects without registration should not be allowed to operate because they propagate dubious teachings based on personal material gain," he said.
("New Vision" [Kampala], March 31, 2000)
KAMPALA - Democratic Party (DP) leader Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere has called for an International commission of inquiry into the murder of hundreds of followers who perished in the Kanungu cult inferno. Ssemogerere, who addressed a press conference at the party's head office in Kampala yesterday, said the Government should prove to the world that the murders were going on without its knowledge. He said, "There is circumstantial evidence in the press showing that Government was contacted."
("New Vision" [Kampala], March 31, 2000)
KAMPALA - Ethics and integrity minister Miria Matembe has said Ugandans should use the Kanungu inferno, where over 500 died, as an eye opener against covering and hiding agents of the devil. "Whatever God does, has a purpose. May be the Kanungu inferno was to open our eyes against covering agents of the devil," Matembe said yesterday. She was opening a two-day integrity workshop for Kabale district leaders at Kabale National Teachers College. It was organised by the office of the Inspector General of Government and funded by DANIDA.
(Associated Press, March 31, 2000)
KABUMBA, Uganda (AP) -- Publicly, at least, Credonia Mwerinde was merely one of the Christian doomsday sect's ''12 Apostles.''
But inside the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, Mwerinde was known as ``The Programmer'' and her power was unchallenged, says Therese Kibwetere, the estranged wife of the sect's widely publicized leader, Joseph Kibwetere.
``Whenever anything was to be done, it was Credonia,'' she said.
Who orchestrated one of the worst mass murders in recent history became an even more pressing question on Thursday, as authorities unearthed 80 more bodies in a compound linked to the sect. The discovery brought to 724 the number of dead found so far. A fifth property used by the cult has yet to be excavated.
Kibwetere, 64, is believed to have perished in a March 17 inferno at the sect's compound in Kanungu, which killed at least 330 sect followers. Mwerinde's whereabouts at the time are unknown.
Kibwetere, Mwerinde and other sect leaders had predicted that the world would end last Dec. 31. When that didn't happen, authorities believe members demanded the return of possessions they had surrendered to join the sect, rebelled and were slaughtered.
On Aug. 24, 1988, Mwerinde claimed to have had a vision of the Virgin Mary in a cave in the southwestern Ugandan village of Ngakishenyi, said her former common-law husband, Eric Mazima. A week later, she left him.
Mwerinde ran a shop that sold banana beer and a fiery local liquor. Press accounts have frequently referred to her as a prostitute, but Mazima and residents say that while notoriously promiscuous, Mwerinde was not paid for sex.
``She went to church only once a year,'' he said Thursday in an interview. ``Sundays were days of making business. She was after money.''
The leadership of the Ten Commandments Movement was largely a family affair, Mazima said, with relatives of the 48-year-old Mwerinde serving as four of the sect's ''12 Apostles.''
Four months after leaving her husband, Mwerinde met Kibwetere in Nyamitanga, where he and his wife had gone to hear her testify about her visions.
Juvenal Mugambwa, Kibwetere's son, said Mwerinde told his father the Virgin Mary had directed her to Nyamitanga to find a man called ``Kibwetere,'' who would take them to his home where they would spread her message to the world.
That evening, Kibwetere brought Mwerinde, her sister and two other friends home with him to Kabumba.
Within days, Kibwetere and his wife had moved into a room with Mwerinde and the three other women. Therese Kibwetere said she was denied any sexual contact with her husband. Mugambwa believes his father and Mwerinde had a sexual relationship.
According to Mugambwa and his mother, Mwerinde soon revealed a penchant for cruelty, exploding in rages, beating Kibwetere's children and demanding total obedience to her divinely inspired messages -- all the while saying she spoke directly for the Virgin Mary.
After a few months, talking was banned in favor of sign language, Mugambwa said. Meals were cut from three to two, with two days of fasting each week. Finally, as the house swelled with the movement's adherents, mothers were separated from their children.
Mwerinde enforced her rules through visions, retiring alone to a room to write and receive ``programs from the Virgin Mary,'' Mugambwe says. She would then emerge with the declaration: ``I've been receiving messages from God that the Virgin Mary is annoyed. People are sinning too much and God is going to end the world because of the sins.''
Children bore the brunt of Mwerinde's harshness, Mugambwa said. She beat his sisters and forced 60 children to live in a 15-by-40-foot backyard shed. The windows were nailed shut and the children forced to sleep on the dirt floor. They frequently were infected with scabies. By then, Mugambwa had been cast as an enemy.
``When I offered them sweets, they refused, making a sign that I was Satan,'' he said.
After three years of abuse, Kibwetere's extended family forced Mwerinde and the three women from the house. Kibwetere went with them. ``He said we were not his children and she (Therese Kibwetere) was not his wife,'' Mugambwa said.
Kibwetere moved with Mwerinde to Kanungu, her hometown, where he became a bishop in the fledgling movement, donning a bishop's ring and church vestments to signify the role. He returned only to Kabumba once, for a funeral. Kibwetere, an excommunicated Roman Catholic, never spoke to his family throughout the entire visit.
Left behind on a wall mantel in Therese Kibwetere's home is a framed printed version of what she said was her husband's favorite prayer ``Oh Lord God: Help me keep my big mouth shut until I know what I am talking about.''
Index Page: Ten Commandments of God: Mass Suicide in Uganda
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