Ugandan soldier viewing charred bodies: doors and windows were nailed shut
Fiery apocalypse of an extremist cult
It was one of Africa’s burgeoning extremist Christian cults, but it came to a fiery end in what investigators called a tragedy comprising suicide—and murder. Members of the mysterious sect, many of them parents with small children, were last seen in the morning of March 17, entering the tin-roofed prayer house on their remote compound in southwestern Uganda. Doors and windows were nailed shut from the inside, and the cultists, who belonged to the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, prepared for their imminent rescue by the Blessed Virgin. Instead, as many as 600 of these fervent followers of Joseph Kibwetere, a 68-year-old ex-federal politician, former Roman Catholic priest and selfproclaimed prophet, died in a horrific blaze ignited by exploding canisters of gasoline. More horror came at week’s end with the discovery 30 km away of more than 150 strangled and dismembered bodies, including 59 children, buried some six weeks ago in a house belonging to the cult.
Ugandan investigators said it is unknown whether Kibwetere and other cult leaders were among the first discovery of burned bodies. Residents of the nearby town of Kanungu, 320 km southwest of the Ugandan capital of Kampala, said the cultists, many of
them former Roman Catholics, had been preparing for what they assumed would be a peaceful journey to heaven. They had said their farewells to acquaintances in surrounding villages, feasted on roasted bull and soda pop, and burned their possessions. “They were aware they were to die,” said villager Anastasia Komuhanti, “because the Virgin Mary had promised to appear at the camp during the morning hours to carry them to heaven.”
Kibwetere is believed to have convinced his followers that the end was near by telling them he had heard, and recorded on tape, a conversation between Jesus and the Blessed Virgin. Investigators suspect he and a small circle of confidants, which included two former Catholic priests, an ex-nun and a one-time prostitute, may have planned to incinerate other members of the cult after luring them into the prayer house. They were able to count 330 bodies, including 78 children, but believe others were reduced to ash. As well, the investigation turned up several bodies in a latrine, raising suspicions that they had been murdered.
The Ugandan tragedy bore eerie similarities to another cult horror— the 1978 mass suicide of 914 followers of the Rev. Jim Jones, who perished at Jonestown, Guyana, by drinking a fruit juice spiked with cyanide.
Extending an olive branch
Taiwan’s newly elected Democratic Progressive president made a conciliatory gesture aimed at easing tensions with mainland China by allowing, for the first time, limited trade, transport and postal links between the two countries. Friction escalated after Taiwanese voters elected Chen Shui-bian, who, in the past, advocated independence in the face of Chinese claims to the island.
Paying for Nazi slave labour
Germany approved draft legislation that provides $6 billion in payments to Nazi-era forced labourers, despite complaints from some survivors that t the average $3,700 payout is inade| quate. The compensation package will | be jointly financed by Germany and | companies that used unpaid labourers during the Second World War.
Clinton calls for peace
President Bill Clinton spent five days in India, a visit sandwiched between one-day trips to Bangladesh and Pakistan, in an attempt to defuse the political situation on the subcontinent. Clintons call for India and Pakistan to disarm their nuclear weapons came amidst ongoing tensions over the disputed Indian province of Kashmir, where 35 Sikhs were massacred on the eve of his visit.
Harassment in a space capsule
Quebec nurse Judith Lapierre emerged from 110 days in a mock space capsule in Moscow complaining of a drunken New Years Eve brawl between two of her Russian crew members and unwanted sexual advances from another. “When I don’t want to be kissed,” said Lapierre, a married 32-year-old who was the only female among the eight-member crew, “I don’t want to be kissed.”
More spending in Britain
Tony Blair’s Labour government in Britain announced a $5-billion boost in health spending, and tax cuts and incentives to promote Internet use including a $240 tax credit for people who electronically file their returns. In his budget, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown also projected a $29-billion surplus.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.