ANYONE who has interacted with a Tuberculosis (TB) patient would have established right away that, indeed she was infected although she was in denial. As a result, she died unaware of her condition as she believed that she had been bewitched. All she relied on was “holy” water and “anointed” concoctions she got from the church.
Tears roll down the cheeks of the heartbroken 20-year-old, Elizabeth Kaduku, as she narrated what transpired on the fateful night she helplessly watched her mother giving birth.
Although the delivery was successful, the newly-born baby died instantly and a few months later her mother followed. The family believed it was pregnancy complications; little did they know that TB fast-tracked her death.
“Her health was fragile; she was always sick, always coughs and got thinner by the day, but bound by church doctrines, she never attempted to seek for medication.
“Everyone who saw her concluded that she had TB, even our neighbours would always advise us to take her the clinic, but I too was scared. I never told her. She had TB but we only got to know about it after she was gone,” said Elizabeth.
One apostolic sect (name withheld) known for its conservative beliefs now lies at the centre of this broken soul. This is the story of a spirit in anguish, whose soul was broken by the very institution it hoped for salvation.
Elizabeth, of Chaka in Chirumanzu was born in the church but like many other Zimbabwean families they ended up wandering from one sect to another in search of “immediate” deliverance from social problems.
“My school mates would often tease me for the red and green threads (charm) which had become a common feature around my neck,” she narrated.
Sometimes she had to rip the “charm” off only to receive severe beating at home for having exposed herself to evil spirits.
“I was constantly sick, as a baby, and only survived by the grace of God. The only medication availed to me and my brother’s children were a concoction of holy water, lemon, ashes and cooking oil,” she said.
Elizabeth and her young brother watched in horror as their mother was forced to give birth in crude circumstances because of church doctrine that discourages the use of modern medicine and medical facilities.
“My mother was weak and couldn’t do anything after giving birth, so I did what I thought was right. I bravely cleaned the baby and wrapped him in warm blankets,” said the agony etched Elizabeth, adding that her mother’s situation would worsen during the night.
With her fragile health worsened by birth delivery complications, this time around she was not so lucky. Following her mother’s death, Elizabeth and her young brother moved to their rural home and stayed with their grandmother.
The boy’s health was deteriorating too, as they had not sought medical attention for him all because of their late superstitious mother who insisted that they had all been bewitched.
According to Elizabeth, her unfortunate 11-year-old brother was coughing the same way “our” mother did. The worried grandmother did not hesitate to take him to St Joseph hospital popularly known as Charandura hospital.
Laboratory tests were carried on the young boy and TB symptoms were diagnosed. Close to death, the boy was immediately transferred to Driefontein Hospital, which is in the same proximity with the initial hospital.
“That was when we got to know that TB killed my mother. History was traced and no one else in the family or at our family house had suffered from the disease,” she said.
“Medication was administered on him and he started to recover and today he is as fit as a fiddle,” Elizabeth said.
Elizabeth says their former church doctrines destroyed her family and induced a lifetime wounds which she says would never heal no matter what kind of counselling is extended to her.
Although she has joined another apostolic sect, Elizabeth feels women in her former church needed to be saved.
“There are deaths that can be prevented, which are unnecessary and followers of these sects need a mind-set change,” she said.
Health and Child Care minster David Parirenyatwa is on record challenging religious leaders to encourage their followers to visit health care centres for medication when they fall sick.
“It is good to pray when a person is sick, but prayer needs to be complemented by medicines, otherwise if people are told to stop taking medicines we might experience many deaths,” Parirenyatwa said.
Reverend Edison Tsvakai of the Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe Africa (UDACIZA) says there is now an improvement in the attitude of apostolic sects towards medical services.
“We engage and teach church leaders who are gate keepers and from these engagements a lot has changed although we still have challenges,” he said.
“It is however encouraging that the majority now understands that ailments and conditions like HIV and TB should be referred to hospitals,” he said.
Dr Christopher Zishiri is the director of The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), an organisation which provides TB and health services to poor communities.
He says they will soon be engaging religious leaders and communities in TB awareness programmes.
“We haven’t started at country level, but globally efforts are being made and we will follow on those tracks,” said Dr Zishiri.
“We are encouraged by traditional leaders’ supportive and willingness to work with us including the government and to us that’s the way to go.”