What you need to know:
- The State accuses Mackenzie of manipulating locals through skewed extreme religious teachings, and fear of the unknown in pursuit of salvation, leading to deaths of many.
- The self-styled spiritual leader is now on the detectives’ radar for allegedly preaching a dangerous doctrine that encourages his followers to starve themselves to death in order to reach heaven faster.
The dusty, windswept and sun-scorched Shakahola village — some 70 kilometres from the tourist haven of Malindi in Kilifi County — is where ‘pastor’ Paul Mackenzie considers his hallowed grounds.
When not at his Malindi home, you are most likely to find him in this village where temperatures sometimes go beyond 32 degrees Celsius.
The grass is no more and even the hardiest of trees appear to have given in the ongoing drought as the red baking earth stretches for miles.
Occasionally, a herd of goats is driven through the small village as children play around and traders go about their business.
Life here goes on uneventfully as locals hardly have much to do besides tending their animals and cultivating crops.
So remote is the village that one struggles to receive mobile phone network signals.
Mackenzie says he moved to Shakahola with a few of his members who needed to start a new life after closing his Good News International Church in Malindi in August 2019.
On a normal day, the village usually bustles with human energy, but last Wednesday, it was surprisingly and temporarily deserted after detectives raided Mackenzie’s semi-permanent house and arrested him in connection with the deaths of two children a week earlier.
According to investigations, it is in his house that Mackenzie has been shaping the beliefs of his followers, some of who are now being investigated for alleged horrific crimes — including starving and killing their children and later burying them in shallow graves.
The State accuses Mackenzie of manipulating locals through skewed extreme religious teachings, and fear of the unknown in pursuit of salvation, leading to deaths of many.
The self-styled spiritual leader, who was once a controversial televangelist, is now on the detectives’ radar for allegedly preaching a dangerous doctrine that encourages his followers to starve themselves to death in order to reach heaven faster.
The consequences of this belief are said to have been deadly, and some who followed his teachings have died.
A murder incident report filed at Langobaya Police Station located in Malindi Sub County under OB Number 12/17/3/2023 revealed an occurrence of incidents of two children’s mysterious deaths linked to the pastor.
Also listed as suspects in the children’s death are Isaac Ngala and Ms Emily Kaunga, the children’s parents.
Court documents allege that the two, on advice from Mackenzie, had starved and suffocated the children, Seth Hinzano and Evabra Dito.
They are suspected of burying the two minors on March 16 and 17, respectively, in a shallow grave at Shakahola village.
Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, the spiritual leader, was arrested and is set to be charged with the preferred charge of murder as there is an order to exhume two bodies of children who are believed to have been buried in the bush after starvation,” a police report reads in part.
Yesterday, an unperturbed Mackenzie, who is under police investigation, said he believes he has spiritual prophetic power, further claiming to have seen apparitions of ‘Jesus’.
The father of seven argued that this is the basic teaching of his brand of Christianity but stated he stopped preaching in 2019.
He says he is currently farming in Shakahola village where he bought land and occasionally visits. So does he run a sect or cult?
“I am shocked about the accusations placed before me. I closed my Good News International church in Malindi in August 2019 and it’s important for people to accept that. I even sold the equipment there and the chairs as well. If a person used to worship with me then, they should do it on their own now and not by my name. Follow Christ and not pastor Mackenzie,” he said in an interview.
He went on: “I have always been on the media for the wrong reasons. The media and individuals always misquote or decide to run with a story out of context. The other time I made a sermon on earthly education being evil and I was taken to court for telling children not to go to school. This was not the case. It is a prophecy and it depends on how you take it. I can preach but I do not force the teachings on anyone.”
Yesterday, Mackenzie granted the Saturday Nation a visit to his church where he used to preach.
Enclosed in a perimeter wall, the pungent, fetid smell that engulfs the compound is the only giveaway that is abandoned.
“I closed the church in 2019 because I got a revelation that the time to call it quits had come. I am not a pastor any more. I identify as Mr Mackenzie. I do not have a gathering to preach to and I just pray with myself and those who chose to believe,” he said as he shut the premises.
Pastor Mackenzie was on Thursday presented before Malindi Court where investigating officers asked for 14 days to probe the matter.
He was released on a Sh10, 000 police bond.
The investigation report is also expected to detail how many more children could have succumbed due to negligence from their parents after the alleged radicalisation in the pastor’s church.
Francis Wanje knows too well the pain of his daughter and her husband thriving on the pastor’s doomsday predictions. The two dead children are his grandchildren.
He could not believe the news he received about his grandchildren being starved to death by their own parents, so on Wednesday, he embarked on the long journey from Mombasa to Shakahola. His heart broke as he stood beside the shallow grave where his grandchildren are suspected to have been buried.
As he mourned the loss of his grandchildren, Mr Wanje was left with many questions. Could his own daughter and son-in-law do such a thing? And what role did the infamous Pastor MacKenzie play in this tragedy?
“Last Friday I had received a call from a stranger that my daughter had handcuffed her last born on allegations of instructions from Pastor MacKenzie. Immediately I sent someone to follow up on the matter. I was shocked to have learnt that my daughter had starved to death two of her other children. One was buried the same week on Wednesday and the other on Thursday,” he told the Saturday Nation.
Mr Wanje added: “Early last year, my daughter informed me that she was moving from Malindi town to Tana River— all along I knew she was in Tana River County. Her husband has been in the GSU (General Service Unit) for five years, and my daughter was a social worker in Malindi. But the pastor’s messages had convinced them to give up their livelihoods and devote themselves fully to his teachings.”
Pain and suffering
The children’s parents had been followers of Pastor MacKenzie, who had reportedly instructed them to fast and attend his sermons. They were not allowed to have water or food as they supposedly awaited the return of Jesus.
“My heart broke into pieces as I thought of the pain and suffering my grandchildren must have endured before their untimely deaths,” he says.
The only solace he had was that his other grandson had been saved from the claws of death.
The Saturday Nation found the boy all skin and bones with a protruding belly and visible ribs, pointing to a case of severe malnutrition. Famished and weak, the boy could barely let out more than a muffled cry.
“According to the investigating officer Joseph Yator drawn from the Directorate of Criminal Investigation in Malindi, police managed to rescue a third child. The rescued child narrated the sufferings his two siblings underwent after being starved for some time before their mother suffocated them to death,” the Director of Public Prosecutions said in court.
“The government pathologist and officers from DCI Malindi will supervise the exhumation exercise, and the sub-county police commander and area OCS will provide security. Exhumed bodies will be examined, and DNA and toxicological samples taken,” the DPP added.
Mackenzie’s followers say they have been told to starve to avoid apocalyptic damnation.
Humphrey Nyongo, a former member of Pastor MacKenzie’s Good News International church, shed light on what really went on in these sermons. He claimed that Pastor McKenzie had a hold over his congregants, instructing them to quit their jobs, skip meals, and not seek medical treatment when sick.
He even told them not to take their children to school, but instead visit the church for life lessons. Mr Nyongo had become suspicious of these instructions and had quit the church, but it was not an easy feat.
“I was a believer of his sermons for 10 years. When the Malindi church was closed down three years ago, the majority of us relocated with Pastor McKenzie to Musimba and Shakahola village. Here, we would meet on Saturdays under a tree from 9am to 5pm,” says Mr Nyongo.
According to him, all appeared to be well until Pastor Mackenzie started informing them to quit their jobs, skip meals and not seek medical treatments in hospitals when sick.
“I started becoming suspicious. His instructions which he termed as messages from God were to not take our children to schools and instead visit the church every day for life lessons. When I moved to the village from Malindi I started a poultry farming business, but he was against it. He does not want anyone to be involved in any economic activities or move from the village to town centers. I became suspicious and quit the church,” says Mr Nyongo.
Additional reporting by Jurgen Nambeka