I was dressed in special attire to prepare for death, Shakahola survivor tells court

Good News International televangelist Paul Mackenzie and his accomplices at the Shanzu Magistrate's Court in Mombasa, where they listened intently to testimony against him in a terror-related case.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

A minor who survived the fatal fast in Shakahola Forest has recounted to the court how he was dressed in special attire to prepare for death, as ‘commanded’ by cult leader Paul Mackenzie.

The minor who is a witness in the Shakahola massacre case described how his three siblings passed away, one by one, with their parents convincing them it was the only path to meeting God.

"My father instructed me to wear the clothes and informed me they were meant for my death. We were then deprived of food for eight days," the minor said while being questioned by State counsels Anthony Musyoka, Jami Yamina and Persi Bosibori.

The witness was overcome by emotion while recounting his harrowing experience in the forest, forcing the court to pause for a few minutes to allow him to compose himself.

"My father handed me the clothes and promised me a place in heaven if I perished," the minor told the court. 

The white trousers and blue polo shirt given to the minor by his father were presented as evidence in court.

 The witness informed Shanzu Senior Principal Magistrate Leah Juma that he had no education in the forest.

There was no opportunity for schooling in the forest. However, I have since learnt how to read, write and count, he stated.

He informed the court that he and his siblings were taken to the forest by their father, with their mother joining later and giving birth to a baby while in the forest.

While residing in the forest, the minor mentioned that their family lived in Bethlehem village. Before moving to Shakahola, he told court they lived in Malindi town.

“We were normally addressed by Mackenzie and he was also called by people as ‘Mtumishi’,” said the minor during cross examination by Paul Mackenzie’s lawyers Lawrence Obonyo and Chacha Mwita.

He remembered observing gatherings in the forest but couldn't recall the content of the speeches delivered to the numerous attendees.

“Mackenzie used to say that people should fast, and for that reason we were denied food by our parents,” said the minor.
Additionally, the minor revealed that his father took away the bodies of his siblings after they passed away due to starvation.

“They were laid to rest in a grave close to our home. Mtumishi was there and he said that people should continue fasting,” said the minor.

He also told the court of how he was rescued by his grandfather and police officers before being taken to a rescue centre.

The contractor

In the same court, a clinical Officer Lewis Thoya narrated how his brother Evans Kolombe Sirya, abandoned his lucrative contractor business to join Mackenzie's church in Malindi before moving into the forest. 

"My brother was prosperous, he used to assist me greatly as he made good money from his business. He worked as a contractor in Malindi town," he explained.

Mr Thoya said that things took a negative turn when Kolombe withdrew his children from a school in Malindi in 2018,  after becoming a member of Mackenzie's church in Furunzi.

He recounted that despite efforts to persuade Kolombe to send the children back to school during a family meeting, his pleas fell on deaf ears.

"I invited my brother to my home and questioned him about his actions, to which he replied that education was against God's will. He also stated that his children would not receive formal education," Mr Thoya said.

The court heard that Kolombe's wife issued a threat to her husband of ever sending the children back to school.

The couple eventually relocated to the forest. Mr Thoya said his brother had six children. He mentioned that he last saw Kolombe in 2018 after he left Malindi and joined the Mackenzie church.

Mr Thoya, overwhelmed by emotions, expressed his distress upon encountering his brother, who appeared very thin and wasted.

“When I saw Kolombe in May last year at Watamu zpolice Station, he mentioned that he had moved his family to an undisclosed location in November 2023, and they were all safe,” the witness recounted.

He recalled that before his brother joined Mackenzie’s church, he was a diligent and focused individual, starting from his time in high school and college, where he pursued a course in Clearing and Forwarding.

Biblical Law

Unlike other cases where the parties would solely rely on Kenyan law, Mackenzie's trial included the use of the Bible to either support or challenge his interpretation of it.

For example, while Mackenzie used First Timothy 6:20, Isaiah 3:16 and James 5:13 to defend himself, the prosecution utilised the same Bible verses to challenge his interpretation of the same.

In his letters, Paul urges Timothy to protect the sacred teachings he has received and avoid getting caught up in pointless debates and misleading information while in the book of James, believers are encouraged to seek solace in prayer during times of distress and to express gratitude through joyful songs when experiencing happiness.

Prophet Isaiah speaks of the vanity and arrogance displayed by the women of Zion as they flaunt their extravagant attire and accessories.

Mackenzie’s advocate referenced these Bible verses to argue that their client’s teachings were derived from the Bible and did not constitute religious extremism or radicalisation as claimed by the State.

In contrast, the prosecution argued that the Bible verses as quoted by the defence and whether taken in their literal meaning, did not advocate for believers to starve themselves to death, reject education or rely solely on prayer instead of seeking medical treatment in hospitals when faced with health challenges.