God 'will heal Zim cholera'

Harare, Zimbabwe - Members of a popular church sect in Zimbabwe are refusing treatment for the deadly cholera disease, claiming God will heal them, said reports on Friday.

Reports said police had to be called in to confront members of Johanne Marange Apostolic sect in the eastern Buhera district, after an outbreak of cholera.

The disease, which spreads easily during the rainy season, had already killed at least 14 people in Zimbabwe.

Three of the victims were from Harare, where the authorities had closed down a popular fruit and vegetable market in a desperate bid to stop the spread of the disease.

Zimbabwe's deputy health minister said the government would deal "ruthlessly" with anyone trying to frustrate its efforts to control the disease.

Conventional forms of medicine

Edwin Muguti said: "Those who resist medical attention, especially during this time of an outbreak of a life-threatening disease, should face the full wrath of the law."

Apostolics, who were well known for their distinctive all-white clothing and their practice of gathering in the open to conduct their rites, were opposed to conventional forms of medicine.

Cholera broke out at Murambinda, a small settlement in Buhera at the end of the year. Health officials had been running cholera awareness campaigns in the area, but met resistance from the sect members.

The reports said: "They (the officials) successfully penetrated various sections of the community until recently when they met a lot of resistance from members of the Johanne Marange church."

The Apostolic church was estimated to have about three million followers in Zimbabwe - about one quarter of the population - but they were split into many different sects.