“You must go, you must remove your graves”, says the Church.
CHURCH THREATENS TO EVICT ORPHANS
By Deo Tumusiime
In the 1960s, my dad the Late Lazaro Kabwende worked for the Diocese of Mbarara, but lived in Bushenyi at the time. The distance from home to work was quite prohibitive, yet dad loved his job.Dad asked his employers if they could offer him a piece of land to pitch his family. His request was granted and he set up a home in Nsiikye village, Nyamitanga Parish in Mbarara.
This is the place where my six siblings and I were born. My dad and my mum wedded at the Nyamitanga Parish back then. We were baptised in the same church and prayed in the same church every other Sunday. Our church meant so much and we grew up in a religious environment. Never did it occur to us that our home would someday be taken away.
In the early 1990s (and I suppose the church leaders had been tipped off on the impending 1995 Constitution), the priests approached my dad asking him to vacate the land where he had now lived with his family for over 30 years.
Dad had established himself and set up some houses and a plantation that fed his family. But the church leaders insisted they wanted their land back. Left with no option, dad asked the church for compensation for the developments on the land so he could vacate. The church leaders decided to play ping pong with him and the two parties did not reach any substantial agreement.
They, however, repeatedly appeared with Police to restrain dad whenever he undertook any further developments on his houses, even simple repairs. Fearing that the church leaders could without further warning throw us out of our home, my dad borrowed money from friends and relatives and built another house on a small plot across the road, as he waited for the compensation to be effected. I remember we moved into the new house round 1993. My dad died in 2012 before the Diocese could compensate him.
Early this year, almost 28 years since the church leaders first knocked with their eviction plans, and aware that the principle thorn in their flesh- my dad, was dead, they returned, this time in full force. They had a clearly crafted plan to achieve decisive eviction at whatever cost. They had already worked with the lands offices and secured a land title covering even our home. They started by negotiating with other occupants on peripheral smaller portions adjacent to our home, and evicted them after miserable compensation tokens.
These people held smaller stakes compared to ours, having lived on their portions for a shorter time anyway, and with far less developments. They had very few options if any, and had to vacate. We knew that this was a bait used by the church leaders to claim that other people had been compensated and they left, but we refused. Their compensation package was extremely miserable, and they knew it.
Once the eviction process hit a standstill, the church leaders headed by Fr. Kashamba, decided to forcefully evict our tenants, and fenced off the entire land. It ought to be noted that the laws in Uganda require of any landlord evicting a tenant to present a court order, but they definitely ignored this, since they are a formidable power.
It should be noted further, that on the land in question is where my mother, the late Magdalen Nanteza was buried in 2010. Her burial was conducted by the Catholic priests of Nyamitanga. On the same land, my brother Chief Joseph was buried in the year 2000, again the burial conducted by the Catholic priests of Nyamitanga. On the same land, we have a banana plantation where we have drawn food for our sustenance over the years. But the priests, together with their Archbishop Paul Bakyenga, insist we must vacate, and must remove the graves of our loved ones. In fact, the Archbishop one day asked my sisters after a Sunday service that, “When are you vacating our land?” This was after they walked to him, our spiritual leader, to say hello!
Now, the church being what it is, definitely has so much money and wields so much power to compromise even the strongest legal infrastructure in the country. Whatever the frustrations they have meted on us, definitely they knew they would get away with them.
We opted for peaceful approach and avoided all out confrontation as they fenced off our ancestral home. My brother lodged a complaint in court seeking temporary injunction as we explored possibilities of getting some form of justice. However, in the whole process, it was evident that the system was heavily compromised. Many people we approached openly told us they were not ready to attempt to challenge the church, even when they empathized with our case.
We were even told that the judges, who attend prayers in the same church, were very unlikely to deliver any judgment challenging their church leaders. Little surprise, the application for injunction was not successful, as indicated by a vague judgment that ruled, saying the status quo remains!
Just this simple ruling came after several costly adjournments, change of court staff handling the case, and the Diocese even tactfully skipped one of the mediation meetings. When the mediation meeting finally took place, the Diocese insisted that all they wanted was their land, and that we must remove our graves. Their position was blessed by the court response to our request for injunction, with the possibility of slapping hefty costs on us for reporting!
Do these priests understand the magnitude of pain involved in digging out bodies of loved ones buried 18 years back? Isn’t it even supposed to be a criminal offence to disturb the peace of the dead? Is there the slightest likelihood that the Jesus these priests have preached to us over the years approves of their actions? How about God the creator of the world, who offered all the land on earth FREELY for his creation to draw livelihood?
With all the land in their possession and all their wealth, just why does the church think that evicting us from less than an acre of land means so much to them? How can the Government let its people be so humiliated just because someone has the power to play around with papers called land title to claim the world at the expense of fellow citizens?
And in any case, how do they (priests) even imagine they have the moral authority to evict a family that has lived on a piece of land for over 50 years? These questions deserve clear answers beyond merely sitting in a court room and having lawyers play legal gymnastics.
I have been a religious person nearly all my life, but with such happenings, I can’t help but begin to wonder whether the church is real or sheer illusion. If church leaders can afford to inflict such magnitude of misery on my family consistently for all these years, to whom can one go anymore for solace? And how shall any of us wake up ever again, and dress up to go to church to listen to all the sweet nothings when our church leaders are on our backs with a haunting demand to remove the graves of our loved ones and vacate our ancestral home?
The writer is a communications consultant