Bulawayo — A clampdown on open-air churches by the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) has been temporarily stopped after some of the churches accused the local authority of tribalism.
Open-air churches -- mostly Apostolic Faith sects -- do not have toilets or running water, exposing the congregants to diseases.
The council has been clamping down on such churches since 2011, arguing that they were a nuisance because they made noise and exposed worshippers to diseases such as cholera and typhoid.
A recent study by BCC indicates that in spite of fines of up to US$20 per head issued to open-air church worshippers, the churches keep increasing.
The authority has since resolved to dialogue with the churches following allegations of tribalism.
In one incident, Nkulumane councillor Ngwalo Nyathi and other community members approached one church gathering and raised the issue of sanitation. They suggested the use of a property with ablution facilities.
"They had met resistance including accusations of regionalism/tribalism and this underscored the complexity of the problem," reads minutes of a recent health, housing and education committee report from.
BBC Sport to engage the open-air churches
Deputy mayor, Amen Mpofu said due to the sensitivity of the matter, council would be engaging the open-air churches to find an amicable solution.
"It would be prudent to invite these gatherings for dialogue prior to any stern enforcement of the by-laws," he noted.
The report however, does not mention which tribe accuses the council of tribalism.
Bulawayo mayor, Thaba Moyo on Thursday laughed at charges by the open-air churches that the council raids were motivated by tribalism.
He said it was unfortunate that the churches were accusing the council of tribalism.
"God is for each and every tribe and there is no council by-law that is tribalistic," said Moyo. "We are only saying do not worship in undesignated places. There is no tribalism in that."
The BCC says the churches are a source of discomfort to residents as they make noise through loud singing.
"Some churches had spilled on to residences where they were a source of discomfort and inconvenience for other residents through loud music and loud hailers," reads the council report.
The council once offered to accommodate the open-air churches at its abandoned beer halls in an effort to curb the outbreak of diseases.
But the offer was shot down as satanic.
A significant number of churches have been allocated stands but they are reluctant to develop them and put ablution facilities.