Should people continue to die in the name of religion? This question becomes pertinent following the recent tragic incident in Thamaga in which three members of a local church drowned at Kolobeng River during a baptising session.
One of the deceased was the pastor of the church, who was the first one to drown. The two other church members drowned after they jumped into the river to rescue the priest. But according to the police, this was not the first fatal incident during a baptising session.
Although he did not disclose the figures, Botswana Police spokesperson, Senior Superintendent, Chris Mbulawa, confirmed that the police have dealt with cases of people who drowned while they were being baptised. He said whenever there is such an incident, the church members would first rush to the police for assistance. Mbulawa said as the police, they could advise members of the public that should take precautions whenever they conduct any ritual whether it be for healing or other purpose.
The police spokesperson said they cannot stop churches from baptising their members in water because they are acting within their constitutional right. But he urges that people should exercise caution. The president of the Botswana Council of Churches, Reverend Mpho Moruakgomo, said they were shocked by the recent incident.
"It is unfortunate people have died," he commented.He said they are concerned about these incidents because it means there is loss of life at the hands of the church. Moruakgomo suggested that maybe churches should devise other means instead of baptising their members in rivers and deep waters.Alternatively, he said, the people who are to be involved in this exercise should learn to swim.
"We must find a way of teaching our people," he said.He said in most cases, the people who are being baptised, including the pastor, do not know how to swim.He said people who are not comfortable doing so should not get into the water.Moruakgomo, a pastor of the Methodist Church, has a phobia for water.
He says he cannot baptise people in
"We overlooked this issue for a long time, he confessed".The chairperson of the Organisation of African Instituted Churches, Nicholas Rakodu, also expressed concern about the drowning incidents although he said they have not discussed them at their forums. Rakodu believes that this is an issue that needs a holistic approach. "This is a social issue and it needs to be treated as such," he said.
He said it also difficult to come up with a solution to the phenomenon. But for Rakodu, churches are also caught in a Catch 22 situation.He noted that most of their churches do not have plots where they can build pools for baptising.
As a result, they are forced to look for a place elsewhere and they end up even using areas that could be dangerous like rivers.Rakodu said in the past their churches have applied for plots but they have not been allocated. In the wake of the latest developments, he said, government should join hands with them to come up with a solution. "All the stake holders have to be involved," he said.He proposed that maybe the authorities should identify a safe spot that could be used by churches for baptising at the Gaborone Dam.
Rakodu said churches that have resources would be able to erect a pool once they have been allocated a plot.In the meantime, the churches would continue with the water baptising sessions as a result exposing their members to risk.