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Wife: Man Didn’t Control Uganda Cult

March 31, 2000 GMT

KABUMBA, Uganda (AP) _ Eight years after Joseph Kibwetere abandoned his family to help form a doomsday sect, his faded black-and-white photographs still adorn his wife’s home, alongside pictures of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the pope.

They are reminders of happier times, says Therese Kibwetere _ before self-described visionary Credonia Mwerinde moved into her home and took over her husband’s life.

Joseph Kibwetere, a former school administrator who had a lifelong interest in Catholic visionaries, has been widely touted as the leader of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God. But his estranged wife said this week it was Mwerinde, not her husband, who controlled the sect, where she was known as ``The Programmer.″

``Whenever anything was to be done, it was Credonia,″ she said.

Who orchestrated one of the worst mass murders in recent history became even more pressing Thursday, as authorities unearthed 80 more bodies in a compound linked to the sect. The discovery brought to 724 the number of dead found so far. A fifth property used by the cult has yet to be excavated.

Kbwetere, Mwerinde and other sect leaders had predicted that the world would end Dec. 31. When that didn’t happen, authorities believe, members demanded the return of possessions they had surrendered to join the sect, rebelled and were slaughtered.

Ugandan authorities were planning this week to ask the international police coordination agency Interpol to issue arrest warrants for Kibwetere, Mwerinde and three others.

Kibwetere, 64, is believed to have perished in the March 17 inferno at the sect’s compound in Kanungu, which killed at least 330 sect followers. Mwerinde’s whereabouts at the time of the fire are unknown.

On Aug. 24, 1988, Mwerinde claimed to have had a vision of the Virgin Mary in a cave in the southwestern Ugandan village of Ngakishenyi, said her former common-law husband, Eric Mazima. A week later, she left him.

Mazima challenged her carefully cultivated image as a religious devotee, saying she claimed her visions and turned to religion only after the couple’s joint business went bankrupt. Until then, he said, Mwerinde ran a shop in Kahunga that sold banana beer and a fiery local liquor. Press accounts have frequently referred to her as a prostitute, but Mazima and residents of Kahunga say that while notoriously promiscuous, she was not paid money in exchange for sex.

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``She went to church only once a year,″ he said Thursday in an interview. ``Sundays were days of making business. She was after money.″

The leadership of the Ten Commandments Movement was largely a family affair, Mazima said, with relatives of the 48-year-old Mwerinde serving as four of the sect’s ″12 Apostles.″

Four months after leaving her husband, Mwerinde met Kibwetere in Nyamitanga, where he and his wife had gone to hear her testify about her visions.

Juvenal Mugambwa, Kibwetere’s son, said Mwerinde told his father the Virgin Mary had directed her to Nyamitanga to find a man called ``Kibwetere,″ who would take them to his home where they would spread her message to the world.

That evening, Kibwetere drove home to Kabumba with his wife, Mwerinde, Mwerinde’s sister and two other friends.

Mugambwa described his father as a perfect figurehead in a country where male leadership is deemed necessary for any group’s legitimacy. ``He had status, he had money and he had a vehicle,″ Mugambwa said.

Within days of their arrival, Joseph Kibwetere and his wife had moved into a room with Mwerinde and the three other women. Therese Kibwetere said she was denied any sexual contact with her husband.

Mugambwa believes his father and Mwerinde had a sexual relationship. ``I suspected it,″ he said. ``Someone who talks to God must be more righteous.″

According to Mugambwa and his mother, Mwerinde soon revealed a penchant for cruelty, exploding in rages, beating Kibwetere’s children and demanding total obedience to her divinely inspired messages _ all the while saying she spoke directly for the Virgin Mary.

After a few months, talking was banned in favor of sign language, Mugambwa said. Meals were cut from three to two, with two days of fasting each week. Finally, as the house swelled with the movement’s adherents, mothers were separated from their children.

Mwerinde enforced her rules through visions, retiring alone to a room to write and receive ``programs from the Virgin Mary,″ Mugambwe says. She would then emerge with the declaration: ``I’ve been receiving messages from God that the Virgin Mary is annoyed. People are sinning too much and God is going to end the world because of the sins.″

Children bore the brunt of Mwerinde’s harshness, Mugambwa said. She beat his sisters and forced 60 children to live in a 15-by-40-foot backyard shed. The windows were nailed shut and the children forced to sleep on the dirt floor. They frequently were infected with scabies. By then, Mugambwa had been cast as an enemy.

``When I offered them sweets, they refused, making a sign that I was Satan,″ he said.

After three years of abuse, Kibwetere’s extended family urged him to expel Mwerinde and the three women from the house. After he refused, they forced the women out. Kibwetere went with them. ``He said we were not his children and she (Therese Kibwetere) was not his wife.″

Kibwetere moved with Mwerinde to Kanungu, her hometown, where he became a bishop in the fledgling movement, donning a bishop’s ring and church vestments to signify the role. He returned only to Kabumba once, for a funeral. He never spoke to his family throughout the entire visit.

Left behind with the pictures on a wall mantle in Therese Kibwetere’s home is a framed printed version of what she said was her husband’s favorite prayer ``Oh Lord God: Help me keep my big mouth shut until I know what I am talking about.″