Cult leader's ex-husband tells of wife's powers

Africa News Online, The Monitor (Kampala), April 4, 2000
By Our Reporter & Agencies

Kampala - Just outside Kanungu, in the village of Shunga, Eric Mazima, 70, who was once married to cult leader Credonia Mwerinde, is certain his former wife was the brains behind the cult.

He left her 12 years ago, after she tried to convince him that the image of the Virgin Mary was visible on a rock face, and that Mary was speaking to her.

"She must have been in charge because she could convince a lot of people," he said.

"She had a lot of followers. I would never imagine she could be able to kill but after all these crimes, I can believe she was able," said Mazina, who has seen nothing of his wife since the separation.

Authorities now believe the leaders of a doomsday cult linked to the deaths of around 1,000 people are still alive, while those who knew them suggest self-enrichment was their motivation.

"I think they are still alive," said Ugandan Vice President Speciosa Kazibwe during a prayer service Sunday in the southwestern town where some 400 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God died in a fire in their church on March 17.

From the testimony of various witnesses, it now appears that Credonia Mwerinde, the cult's so-called "programmer" rather than its "prophet" Joseph Kibwetere, a former mental patient and one-time politician, was the driving force behind the murderous movement.

Mwerinde presented herself as a former prostitute, an unverified detail whose reference to Mary Magdalene would nevertheless not be lost on those familiar with the Bible.

Mwerinde convinced cult members and would-be members that the Virgin Mary regularly appeared to her with messages. "They exploited illiteracy and ignorance of thousands of people in remote places," said the vice president, who described Kibwetere as "very intelligent" and "mentally ill."

Kibwetere and his "12 apostles" recruited numerous local leaders to convince villagers to join the cult, which predicted the end of the world, first in 1992, and then at the turn of the millenium.

One poor woman, Night Nalongo, recalled that Mwerinde sent her away because she could not raise the Shs 250,000 entry fee.

Mwerinde told her there was no room for the poor in the cult.

Ever evoking the Virgin Mary, Mwerinde told would-be members to sell all their possessions and give the proceeds to the sect. The vast majority of those who died in Kanungu or who were murdered and buried in five mass graves on the grounds of other prominent members in the southwest of the country came from other parts of Uganda and even other nearby countries.

Hundreds of itinerant people, including children without their parents, were housed in transit camps.

It appears that when the world failed to end, leaders planned the murders to avoid the increasing pressure of members' questions and demands for refunds. A villager in Sweswe explained that on March 10, a week before the Kanungu inferno, Katebalirwe sold her his house for a pittance to raise the fare to travel to Kanungu, where he said he expected to meet Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

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