11 years after Uganda cult murders, sad memories still fresh

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It is more than a decade since more than 1,000 people perished in a church building in Kanungu, Uganda, after what is believed to have been a well-planned move by cult leaders who thought the world was coming to an end on December 31, 1999 but it never came to pass.

Much as time has passed, people still feel the effect of the killings, write Perez Rumanzi & Emily Kembabazi in the Daily Monitor:

Every March 17, sad memories of the 2000 cult inferno return to haunt Ms Sarah Ntegyereize. The young Ntegyereize, daughter to the then Kinkizi Diocese Bishop, Rt. Rev. John Wilson Ntengyereize, recalls when she set out to deliver a missive to the ill fated Church on the day of the inferno that claimed more than 1,000 believers most of whom were children.

The massacre site is approximately 450 kilometres from Uganda’s capital in the southwestern district of Kanungu, two-and-a-half kilometres east of Kanungu District headquarters, on a road named “Inferno.”

According to Mr Emmy Magezi, the Kanungu LC5 councillor, the road was named “Inferno” in memory of those who perished in the fire at Nyabugoto. […]

On that fateful day, Ms Ntegyereize had been sent to the church to deliver a message following an invitation to his father to a function to open the church the following day. But moments after she left the church, she saw a cloud of smoke from the site of the old church. “It was very hard for me to get onto the motorcycle,” she recalls.

“My legs were quaking. I had just left the premises, I had a single shout and fire was over the roof. I hadn’t gone back until today.” She says she did not see any of the cult leaders the day she delivered the message.

This was the lowest moment in the history of the district (then Rukungiri) and Uganda as believers of “Movement for the Restoration of the 10 Commandments” headed by Joseph Kibwetere locked themselves up in a cult Kanungu church and set themselves ablaze. People in this area still remember what the church looked like, the cult leaders in question and the day believers perished.

A sidebar accompanying the feature article includes details about the cult:

Though newcomers were fed well, regulars of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments largely subsisted on beans and were estranged from family and largely cut off from the outside world. Doomsday predictions were made by the cult’s leaders, but they kept pushing it ahead now and again.

Kibwetere’s manifesto handbook entitled “A Timely Message From Heaven: The End of the Present Time” was circulated, spreading news that the world will come to an end on December 31, 1999. When that day passed as another unfulfilled prophecy, it is believed that some disgruntled members wanted to leave and have their property returned.

On March 15, 2000, two days before the church fire, Kibwetere issued a farewell letter to government officials.
That letter spoke of the imminent end of the current generation and the world. Similar sentiments were expressed in a previous communication, which said “God sent us as a movement of truth and justice to notify the people to prepare for the closing of this generation, which is at hand.”

One official reflecting upon Kibwetere’s last letter recalled, “The person who brought the letter bid farewell to the staff. It was pre-meditated suicide.” More than 1,000 people perished in the fire while 500 others are suspected to have been killed before the cult fire.

Research resources on the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments
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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014