Celebration Church in trouble
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The congregation officially referred to as Celebration Westgate has since stopped erecting permanent structures at the place of worship after council passed a resolution that said the area is reserved for a public primary school.
This week, Harare City councillor for ward 41, Charity Bango, under whose jurisdiction Marlborough suburb falls, confirmed the latest development.
She said some Marlborough residents had petitioned council saying they were being prejudiced by the alleged illegal occupation as their children were being denied a chance to attend a school within their precinct. Some of the suburb's poor residents who include gardeners and housekeepers claimed they cannot afford to send their children to private schools let alone bus fare to access government schools nearby, hence their demands that council build an affordable public school at the site.
"They were not allocated the land by council. The law says you cannot just occupy land. There is a council resolution directing them to vacate," said Bango.
"Residents have also petitioned council saying that they want a school there. That has been communicated to the church."
Celebration Ministries International spokesperson, Selina Zigomo said: "Celebration Church Westgate shares the City Council's desire to provide further educational opportunities for the community. However, the church is currently engaged with the council in negotiations to reach an amicable and win win solution to ensure that both institutions continue to constructively serve the needs of Marlborough and surrounding communities. We therefore cannot comment further."
This is not the first time that the Celebration Church has gone into trouble with council.
In May 2007, The Financial Gazette reported that the Harare City Council's Fire Department had indicated that certain materials used to build the Celebration Centre in Borrowdale made the building a fire hazard, besides claims that it had failed to meet model building by-laws.
At the time, council documents said Local Government, Urban and Rural Development Minister, Ignatius Chombo, had approved the occupation of the building despite a report by experts condemning the imposing structure's safety features. Several churches have also clashed with councils over the years over land.
Recent media reports indicated that popular evangelist, Emmanuel Makandiwa's United Family International Church was alleged to have acquired a stand in Chitungwiza in violation of the law. The scandal also sucked in the Watch Tower Bible Society.
The Anti-Corruption Commission later arrested Chitungwiza's municipality housing director, Jemina Gumbo who was subsequently charged with corruption in connection with the sale of the stands that were meant for the construction of a stadium and hotel.
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