Religious leaders yesterday condemned attacks on churches and Christian structures, pressing the Zanzibar government to bring to book perpetrators of the acts, which threatened peace and unity.
The leaders who met the minister of State in the Second Vice President’s Office, Mohamed Aboud, called on the Isles government to institute punitive actions against the pioneers of the burning of churches, convents in Zanzibar. Reading a statement, on behalf of the other leaders, Head of the Anglican Church, Bishop Valentine Mokiwa said the destructive acts posed a bigger threat to the security of their followers and the national unity.
“Our followers are living in fear, because of what happened to our churches some few days…there is also displeasure, on their part (followers) over government inaction and failure to take those responsible to court,” said Mokiwa. The burning of churches started long time ago, but the government did not act decisively to put a stop to the acts, he said.
“This is not the first time… 25 churches have been burned so far in different parts of Zanzibar, and the government is quiet, despite the initiatives taken to report the incidents to the police. We don’t know who should bear the blame…at times, it create an impression that these acts have government blessing,” said Valentine, who doubles as Chairman of President of African Churches. He said pioneers of the destruction were not hooligans or mentally-ill people, but individuals of sound mind who have a special agenda.
“And the government is duty-bound to extensively trace them and bring them to book – in order to restore public trust and confidence in the government,” said the cleric.
"We are tired…very tired of these destructions…we want the government to act and take stern action against people who want to divide the nation and disrupt our peace,” he noted. Winding up the discussions, State minister, Mohamed Aboud, thanked the Christian clerics for being calm, urging them to remain patient, saying the government was hunting for the perpetrators of the crime and will institute legal actions against them.
He promised to forward the clerics’ official statement to the Isle President, Dr Ali Mohamed Shein, and stressed that the government will leave no stone unturned in dealing with anybody who wanted to disrupt “our peace and national unity and discriminate other faiths.”
The acts, he said, were intolerable, as they go against the country’s Constitution, noting that Tanzania was a secular state, “whose people are free to believe in any faith of their choice.” Main opposition party, Chadema, yesterday asked religious leaders and institutions to cooperate in consolidating peace and national unity.
Deputy Secretary General (Zanzibar), Hamad Mussa Yusuph blamed the violence on youths who he claimed were trained by one of the political parties in the Government of National Unity.
Already, Zanzibar government has banned religious forums and lectures from debating political issues, stressing that it will arrest leaders of any group doing so in order to maintain order and strengthen national unity.
Speaking on Tuesday, the minister of State, Second Vice President’s Office, Mohamed Aboud Mohamed said: “The government will no longer tolerate such acts.
We will not let religious groups use their sermons to debate political issues…they are encouraged to join the political platform instead of preaching politics behind religious curtains,” said Mohamed to applause from the clerics.
He blamed the chaos in Zanzibar on a group of people who have been holding illegal assemblies behind a religious curtain to debate politics without permission.
“Illegal assemblies are strictly prohibited. Any person conducting meetings or demonstrations without permit will be apprehended. We don’t want to let people threaten the country’s tranquility,” he noted. He said the government efforts in fighting poverty will hardly be achieved without peace.
According to the minister, Zanzibar is well known worldwide for having talented Muslim leaders (Sheikhs) who work collaboratively with people from all walks of life without threatening the country’s peace.