My son has been brainwashed by Makenzi, says Zablon wa Yesu's father

Zablon wa Yesu's father, Cleophas Atanda. [Kevin Karani, Standard]

The family of a man said to be a key figure in Paul Makenzi's church has asked the government to pardon him, and instead make him a state witness against the Kilifi-based cult leader.

The man, identified as Zablon wa Yesu, 32, was arrested in Kilifi County last week over his links with Makenzi, the founder of Good News International Church. 

Zablon's father, Cleophas Atanda, 72, claimed his son had been brainwashed by Makenzi. 

Atanda said Zablon, who was found reading the Bible at the time of his arrest, was raised in the United Pentecostal Church and never showed any weird behaviour.

Atanda who spoke at his home in Mushirombe village in Butere constituency, Kakamega County, said he does not understand how his son became a top leader in the controversial church.

The church grabbed the headlines after four followers died while 'fasting to meet Jesus'. Eleven others were rescued on the verge of death and some later succumbed in hospital.

When police launched investigations into the incident, more bodies were discovered. The number of victims of the Shakahola horror now stands at more than 110.

Makenzi is in police custody as investigations continue.

“I was shocked when I heard the news of my son's arrest. Reports that he was a senior member of the cult shocked me to the core. I am appealing to the government to treat him as a victim,” said Atanda.

Zablon's family says he left the village in 2016 for Nairobi to look for greener pastures after failing to make ends meet as a peasant farmer.

“While in Nairobi, he got a job at a supermarket and later opened a clothes' shop in Gikomba which earned him good money that he used to support his family and me,” said Atanda.

He said things changed two years ago when his son was arrested and jailed for a month for assaulting his wife for refusing to join Makenzi's church.

Kilifi-based cult leader Paul Makenzi in court on April 17, 2023. [Nehemiah Okwembah, Standard]

“His wife called me and reported the incident. She further told me that he had instructed her not to take their children to school or seek treatment in hospital in case they fell ill, but she refused,” said Atanda.

Zablon's wife, Lilian Atanda, who lives in Huruma, Nairobi, said her husband was a generous, humble, and God-fearing person until he joined the Good News International Church in 2018.

“Zablon made me know how to read the Bible. He took me to his childhood church, the United Pentecostal Church, and helped those in need. He loved his children and family. He did not miss a single church service and in the church, he was among prayer warriors, the intercessors. Things however changed when he started listening to Makenzi’s preaching,” said Lilian.

She added: "He started following Makenzi intensely when his business collapsed. He took his (Mackenzi’s) number on the screen and asked to be directed to the church’s branch in Nairobi. He landed in Makongeni."

His dedication grew to a point he now wanted to be at the church's headquarters.

“He finally travelled to Kilifi and met Makenzi. Zablon came back but he was a different person. He burnt all his academic certificates and work documents,” Lilian said.

Zablon would sell his household items to get money to travel to Kilifi every Sunday.

“Towards the end of 2019, I discovered that he wanted to steal our children. I took them to his brother and he got angry and left until on Tuesday when I saw him in the media,” said Lilian.

Hi elder brother Stanley Atanda, who lives in Githurai, Nairobi, said they noticed all was not well with Zablon after he became an ardent follower of Makenzi after he lost his job at Nakumatt Supermarket in 2018.

“My brother would spend the entire day praying after he lost the job. He then started selling his property,” said Stanley.