The Church of Uganda is reeling after one of its churches was demolished without warning. In the pre-dawn hours of Monday, August 10th, a group of people with an excavator destroyed the 49-year-old St. Peter’s Church in Ndeeba.
“The act which was done here is barbaric,” Dr. Stephen Kazimba Mugalu, the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda told reporters. Standing at the scene of the demolished church, Mugalu said that even though the ownership of the land on which the church sat was under dispute, the church has squatter’s rights. “The church has been here for 40 years. The law says if you have been in a place for 12 years, you have squatter’s rights.”
The dispute over the land is between the Anglican Church of Uganda and businessman Dodovico Mwanje. According to Virtue Online, the land is desirable for its location. Ndeeba is located just outside Uganda’s capital, Kampala, and business developers have expressed interest in building commercial buildings on the land St. Peter’s has occupied.
On Tuesday, Mugalu appealed to those who might know something about the ownership of the land. “I want to call on the children. If you know your parents made a donation—a piece of land—to the church, to the school, respect it,” he said.
It is believed 11 men acted to demolish the church, despite the fact that the church was under police protection and there is currently a curfew and ban on evictions in effect. Those involved have been arrested, and investigation into the demolition is ongoing. “Kampala Metropolitan Police is investigating circumstances under which St. Peter’s Church of Uganda, Ndeeba, was demolished this morning disregarding government directives that stopped all evictions during this COVID19 period,” police spokesman Patrick Onyango said, speaking to reporters.
According to Anglican Link, a legal hearing concerning the dispute over the land was held last year. While the church claims they were gifted the land 49 years ago, High Court Judge Eudes Keitirima ruled that the gift was not perfected since the church doesn’t hold the title to the land.
Due to the ongoing dispute, the church was under police protection. Three police officers have been arrested for neglect of duty. The three allegedly stood by and watched as the building was demolished. They are also being charged for not enforcing the curfew or the ban on evictions that is currently in effect in Uganda due to the coronavirus.
Archbishop Stephen Kazimba Mugalu issued the following statement about the demolition of the church:
On behalf of the House of Bishops and all Christians of the Church of Uganda, we express our sincere condolences to the Bishop and people of Namirembe Diocese, and especially those of St. Peter’s Church, Ndeeba, on last night’s destruction of their treasured building and House of Worship. We are grateful that our grandmother, who donated the land for the church, is not alive to see the destruction that has been done to the sacred place she gave as a gift to God.
This barbaric act of destruction is evil. If an action can’t be done in broad daylight, then there is something deeply wrong; we have lost respect for God. This destruction of the House of God took place in the darkness of night during a curfew; and, the security forces, who are supposed to uphold the law and guard against destroyers, were allegedly complicit in the destruction of a House of God. Squatters have rights after being on land for 12 years, and yet St. Peter’s Church has been on that land for 40 years. We call for a serious and impartial inquiry into this matter.
During lockdown, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has not been locked down. Likewise, the destruction of St. Peter’s Church, Ndeeba, will not deter the Church from preaching the Gospel. Jesus promised us that the “gates of hell will not prevail against the Church of Jesus Christ.” (Matthew 16.18)
We stand in solidarity with the Bishop, Namirembe Diocese, and especially the Christians of St. Peter’s Church. Especially during this time of a global pandemic, the church is needed now more than ever. We assure you of our prayers for a peaceful and just resolution to this tragic situation.