2 September 2006

Zimbabwe: Churches Resort to Security Firms

Harare — "GOD will provide," so strong has this religious conviction been that churches had, until recently, never bothered to engage security firms to guard their premises as most of them basked in the religious belief of divine protection.

However, in a significant about-turn from this established religious ethos, churches have of late become a strong clientele for most security companies as they are now investing more to counter criminals whose activities know no bounds.

In the wake of a series of thefts and break-ins that rocked most church premises in recent years, church authorities and congregations have now resorted to engaging established security firms to protect their places of worship.

While society has regarded church buildings as sacred, consecrated and open to all seeking salvation, elements with a criminal streak have lately capitalised on this to carry out their nefarious activities without arousing suspicion and the least likelihood of detection.

In the past, members of the congregation would only go to their churches for services as most of them did not have any valuable assets on the premises.

With modernisation, most churches are now technologically advanced and now possess valuable assets and accessories such as computers, printers, laptops, Internet facilities, music instruments and even vehicles.

However, those with criminal minds observed that churches were lax on security matters.

This resulted in an upsurge of theft and break-ins at most churches, some of them involving thieves masquerading as worshippers.

Even personal items like handbags and cellphones have disappeared while genuine worshippers are closing their eyes in deep prayer. Cars parked in churchyards have not been spared either.

A survey conducted by The Herald this week revealed that most churches have now engaged security firms although some are still employing church members as both guards and caretakers.

Martha Gumbo, public relations manager with Guard Alert security company, said: "We are enjoying good business from churches who now constitute a good part of our client base and more churches are in the process of signing contracts with us.

"Owing to the success that we have had with churches on our books, more are coming to seek our services. If we are engaged by, say, AFM Mbare, the result has been that it will refer other churches of their denomination to us.

"Churches used to employ their own security guards, but they are now resorting to registered security companies after having lost valuable goods to robbers who have become more daring even by day.

"We hope to continue educating other churches on the need for a professional security service," she added.

A senior elder with the Zimbabwe Assemblies of God Africa (ZAOGA) Seke district said they no longer depended on church members to act as both caretakers and security guard.

He said the spate and magnitude of robberies that had hit churches of late had forced them to seek professional providers of security.

"We used to engage unemployed members of our congregation to reside on the church premises in both a caretaking and guarding capacity, but stopped doing so after continuing to lose valuable property to robbers. We then engaged registered security companies.

"Our churches have computers, furniture and vehicles all kept on the premises and we deemed it wise to employ professional and fully-insured security firms," he said.

Some churches, however, still engage untrained members whom they give the double task of both looking at the church and guarding the premises at night.

Pastor Conrad Nduna of New Life Covenant Church said they employ jobless church members for the task.

"We recruit our own staff and pay them according to the standards prescribed for guards by the National Employment Council (NEC). They do all the job including manning the church site over night," he said.

A pastor with the Faith Ministries' Avondale congregation said they did not employ security guards but had instead installed alarm systems to alert people staying on the premises who them could contact the police.

"We do not engage security guards as we still have a number of our people who are unemployed and need something to do to survive. We have, instead, installed alarm systems at our churches," he said, pointing out that it had become vitally important for churches to safeguard their own premises, unlike before.

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