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The preacher and the prostitute

BBC News Online, 29 March 2000

Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of Joseph Kibweteere, the cult leader thought to be behind one of the worst massacres in recent history.

His estranged wife Theresa, a devout Catholic, believes he perished in the inferno at his church in Kanungu in south-western Uganda a week ago.

But the Ugandan authorities suspect he is still at large and have launched a nationwide manhunt.

So far more than 900 bodies of cult members have been found and the number is still rising.

Mrs Kibweteere, who wears a pendant of the Pope around her neck, is struggling to comprehend the fact her husband could be behind the carnage.

"He was so humble once," she told the British Sunday Times in an interview last week.


As police continue to hunt for Mr Kibweteere, it has emerged that he had been attending a psychiatric hospital in the capital Kampala.

He had been diagnosed as a manic depressive, but suddenly abandoned his treatment last year.

The hospital's senior psychiatrist said Mr Kibweteere had displayed the classic symptoms of psychotic illness.

But his visits were unknown to the authorities who licensed the cult and to the hundreds of his followers found dead in Kanungu.


The Kibweteeres married in Mbarara, the regional capital, in 1960.

He was working as assistant supervisor of the area's Catholic schools and later became a government overseer of building and agricultural projects.

Mr Kibweteere had a brief fling with politics, campaigning for the opposition Democratic Party in the 1980 election, but he dropped out after their defeat.

The family then moved to Rwashamaire, where they owned several properties, hundreds of cattle and a milling business.


Mr Kibweteere first announced the Virgin Mary had appeared before him in 1984.

His convictions were strengthened when a few years later a former prostitute called Credonia Mwerinde said she had seen the Virgin Mary in a cave near his home.

The Kibweteeres' son Rugambwe told the Sunday Times that Ms Mwerinde moved in soon afterwards.

"The next thing we knew she was in our house and they had decided to start their cult here."

"Soon she was beating us all. My father was in awe of her and would do anything she said."


Mr Kibweteere set up his Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God and he and Ms Mwerinde declared the world would end at the turn of the century.

The arrival of Dominic Kataribabo, a respected and popular priest with a PhD from the United States, gave added weight to the cult.

Meanwhile Ms Mwerinde was claiming to receive messages from the Virgin Mary through a hidden telephone system that spoke through objects such as cups and plates.

She is said to have persuaded Mr Kibweteere to take his children out of school and sell his three other properties, car and milling machines to feed the growing numbers of disciples.

On one occasion she claimed the Virgin Mary had told her all children under five should be killed, and a sacrifice was needed immediately, according to the Kibweteeres' daughter Edith.

Ordered out

When village elders told Mr Kibweteere in 1992 that he must remove himself and his cult, Ms Mwerinde's father offered his farm in Kanungu, west of Rwashamaire.

But the cult is said to have begun to fracture when the millennium came and went with no Armageddon.

A teenage survivor of the massacre has sworn that Mr Kibweteere was not in Kanungu on the fateful night and that he saw Mwerinde running through nearby fields as the place exploded.

But Mr Kibweteere's son believes is convinced that one of the bodies at the church belonged to his father.