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Wednesday, 29 March, 2000, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Quiet cult's doomsday deaths
villagers visit the scene
Villagers said cultists had been polite and disciplined
The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God had led a relatively uneventful existence until the holocaust that consumed hundreds of its members.


The whereabouts of the founders is unknown
Located in a remote farming community in the volatile south-west corner of Uganda, the cult was quiet and inward-looking.

The movement began in the late 1980s when a former prostitute Credonia Mwerinde reported seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary.

She failed to convince the Vatican, but Joseph Kibwetere, a failed politician, believed enthusiastically and their cult was born.

Police believe they began murdering their followers, after their predictions about the end of the world failed to come true.

Visions

The group, which is thought to have attracted up to 4,000 members, moved from Mr Kibweteere's home in Rwashamaire to Kanungu in about 1992.


newspapers
Ugandans read of the world's worst mass suicide of recent years
It was registered as a charity whose aim was to obey the Ten Commandments and preach the word of Jesus Christ.

Members dressed in matching uniforms and spoke little for fear of breaking one of the commandments.

An expert on new religions said the group developed a hierarchy of visionaries, headed by Ms Mwerinde.

They were backed up by priests who worked as theologians, rationalising the messages.

Catholicism

The cult maintained tenuous links to Roman Catholicism, which is a strong force in the region.


cross at compound
Cult included defrocked former Catholic clergy
Catholic icons were prominent at the group's premises and its leadership was dominated by a number of defrocked Catholic priests and nuns.

Many of the bodies have been found at the home of a former respected priest from Kamapala called Dominic Kataribabo, who had a PhD from the United States, and who became a major force in the cult.

Noah's ark

Locals said the group had described their church as a kind of Noah's ark.

"They were told that at the time of calamity they would come here," said one.

"They were told that at a certain time this year the world would end and so the leaders made it happen, and perhaps the people there believed it had happened," she added.

Malnutrition

Villagers in the area described the followers as disciplined, polite and never causing any trouble.

The cult compound included a primary school and members spent their days in communal pursuits.

But the Ugandan press had reported that the cult had been shut down in 1998 for its insanitary conditions, using child labour, and possibly kidnapping children.

One survivor of the inferno said that some followers had been dying from malnutrition and many were ill.

He said members had to get up at 0300 and pray for three hours before working in the fields.

Turmoil

The cult's followers were drawn from south and central Uganda and from neighbouring Rwanda.

But experts on religion in Africa believe it was not just Mr Kibweteere's fiery preaching and Ms Mwerinde's visions that drew them to his church.

The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God is one of many post-Catholic groups which emerged in south-west Uganda in the mid-1980s.

Many believe the social and political turmoil in the region have been a significant factor in their growth. They point to the Aids pandemic, the overthrow of Idi Amin and the five-year civil war.

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Uganda's death cults
Click on the stories below for more on Uganda's doomsday cult.
Key stories:
Cult's quiet life
Priest who murdered his flock
The preacher and the prostitute
Story in pictures
Why East Africa?
More on cults
When devotion means death
'Why I joined a cult'
Talking Point TALKING POINT
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See also:

20 Mar 00 | Africa
Analysis: Why East Africa?
18 Mar 00 | Africa
When devotion means death
20 Sep 99 | Africa
Police swoop on Ugandan cult
23 Nov 99 | Africa
Ugandan millennium cult smashed
13 Jul 99 | e-cyclopedia
Cult or religion: What's the difference?
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