The Maputo municipal authorities have ordered the suspension of work to build a cathedral for the wealthy Brazilian evangelical sect, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD), on one of the city’s main thoroughfares, Julius Nyerere Avenue, in the plush suburb of Sommerschield.
The project had been licensed in January, shortly before the outgoing mayor, Artur Canana, handed over the office to the newly elected Eneas Comiche, who was clearly aghast at his predecessor’s decision.
On 20 April Comiche slapped an embargo on any attempt to implement the license, and begin building work. This Wednesday the City Council took the issue to the elected Municipal Assembly. The Assembly unanimously agreed that its specialised commissions will look into the matter.
Since none of the three forces in the Assembly – the ruling Frelimo Party, the Renamo-Electoral Union opposition coalition, and the independent citizens’ group “Juntos Pela Cidade” (JPC – Together for the City) – are enthusiastic about the planned cathedral, the commissions are likely to back Comiche.
The City Council ordered its embargo on the grounds that granting the license was contrary to the city’s master plan, since the area concerned has been designated a residential one. Another reason is that if the church, with a capacity for 3,800 people, is allowed to open, it will create traffic jams on Julius Nyerere Avenue, particularly at peak hours.
Comiche also argued that the building would create “noise pollution” – loud singing and wailing characterises IURD services, which would be likely to disturb people living nearby.
On 30 April, Comiche submitted the IURD’s plan to a forum of specialists, including architects, engineers and lawyers. They supported Comiche’s position that the licence was illegal, noting that it had been granted right at the end of Canana’s term of office, in defiance of the unfavourable technical opinions given by the Council’s own staff.
A legal battle may be looming – for the IURD spent about a million US dollars on obtaining the rights to the land on which the cathedral was to be built.
The IURD has been spectacularly successful, establishing churches all over Maputo, and in most other Mozambican cities.
Its services are well attended – perhaps because they are much more interesting than Catholic or mainstream Protestant forms of worship, since the IURD priests always perform exorcisms and claim to cure the sick.
The IURD also owns Miramar, a Mozambican radio and television station. It is clearly a very wealthy organisation, and it is suspected that its success is based, not so much on its crudely fundamentalist approach to the Bible, as on laundering Latin American drug money.