IT is high time that the City of Harare authorities bring sanity to open-air worship. The proliferation of worship centres really needs to be checked. The new laws were long overdue.

We have reached a stage where anyone calling themselves a prophet can appropriate any piece of open ground and set up a worship centre.

We think that this laissez faire attitude prompted the anarchy which resulted in members of one such gathering to have the guts to attack police officers on duty who had gone to their shrine.

Worshippers at one of the biggest open-air centres even go so far as to close the nearby cyclist track during their occasional large gatherings forcing cyclists to risk the busy highway. Because they have been allowed to do as they please, many of the worshippers feel entitled to rule their illegally appropriated land as their own personal kingdoms over which their word is law.

There is no registration or regulation of these centres.

According to the law, all alternative healers including prophets should be registered with the Traditional Medical Practitioners’ Council.

Many of them have been avoiding that because they can just set up shop any place they please and move on.

By enforcing registration, the city authorities will actually be helping the responsible council to keep track of its members and regulate their activities. In fact, we suggest that the city grant access to designated areas to registered churches only. Perhaps we would see a reduction in criminal cases involving such prophets which include many cases of sexual assault on female followers.

But by far the biggest challenge is that of hygiene as in most of these places no ablution facilities exist.

In a country where we are recording as many as 12 deaths in a week due to diarrhoea, it is clear that such practices need to be immediately discontinued.

The practice is exposing everyone to the health hazards caused by human waste that is not disposed of according to acceptable standards.

Where the places of worship are near public facilities, there is the issue of the burden on the ratepayer as these worshippers do not pay for anything for the use of those facilities.

Regulated churches in properly designated places of worship pay their dues to the responsible authorities and there is no reason why these open-air worshippers have been allowed to shirk that responsibility.

There is also the case of environmental degradation.

Once they stake a claim on a piece of ground, most of these worshippers immediately embark on a land clearing orgy removing all ground cover and at times the trees and shrubs in the environs as well.

There is no reason why any comer should be allowed to appropriate a piece of public land for their personal use in the name of religion. We would like to suggest that the city asks all these open-air worshippers to properly acquire land for religious use, like all other churches do.

They can then choose not to build a shelter except for ablution blocks on their land.

We would also like to urge the city authorities not to limit their attention to open-air worship as practised by a specific set of worshippers.

They should also cast their net wide and also consider those who have taken over places like Africa Unity Square and the First Street open-air theatre.

There are also the myriad of worship centres that are springing up in many CBD office buildings which seem to run even during working hours. Most of these places have loud PA systems which seem designed to disturb the peace of everyone within a 100-metr radius.

The right to freedom of worship should not be interpreted as an open cheque.

Even if adherents believe that their deity is the supreme authority, here on earth the law of the land is supreme and ultimately it works for the good of the majority.