Ten years after tongues of fire consumed over 1,000 lives in what has come to be remembered as the world’s biggest mass suicide by members of a religious cult in Kanungu District, a key witness has broken silence offering new leads and even more questions into the mystery.
The killings were blamed on a religious cult known as the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God led by Joseph Kibwetere.
On March 17, 2000, an estimated 1,000 believers gathered in a church building just outside Kanungu town and burnt to cinders after they allegedly locked themselves in and set the building on fire.
The incident climaxed a series of apparently expertly executed killings that spread over nearly half the country including the capital Kampala and Bushenyi District where bodies buried underneath concrete buildings were found in the aftermath of the inferno. Ten years on, no investigation has ever been done and as Sunday Monitor has found, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Police Criminal Investigation Directorate long closed files on any investigation. A government appointed judicial probe never sat and the case seems closed for good.
But the only man to be arrested and detained in relation to the inferno has offered to speak out for the first time in an exclusive interview with this newspaper.
Rev. Richard Mutazindwa, who had served as assistant Resident District Commissioner in charge of Kanungu until two months before the inferno, says he is seeking justice and relief from a cross he has carried for more than 10 years.
“I am carrying a cross,” says Rev. Mutazindwa who was ordained a priest of the Anglican church before joining the struggle for Uganda’s liberation of 1981-86 and later plunging into direct politics. “When you are a Reverend (religious leader) you are a public figure, people look up to you, you are recognised everywhere and people keep pointing to you, so this Kanungu thing has been a burden to me and my family.”
Rev. Mutazindwa points to questions that have puzzled Ugandans and the world about the incident over the last decade. Was there ever a commitment on the part of the government to really find the truth of what happened in Kanungu? Was anyone really interested in finding the truth? Did the people who died in the inferno matter and who were they?
He says he is still surprised that he was the only one made to carry the burden after such an incident — that led to chronicle of others – claimed so many lives.
“That is what still puzzles me! I was a mere assistant RDC. I had my boss the RDC, there was a head of Internal Security Organisation, a District Police Commander, Criminal Investigations Directorate, local political leaders. Therefore if there was a failure to detect that these people were up to something bad, I surely couldn’t have been the only person who failed,” he says.
Rev. Mutazindwa’s predicament is re-echoed by Rev. Canon Benon Mugarura, who was appointed to a judicial probe to probe the tragedy but never even met. “I wonder why he was arrested,” Canon Mugarura said.
Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday November 20, 2010.
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