KAMPALA: There was a stampede at the Catholic shrines in Namugongo during the martyr’s day celebrations on Friday afternoon as thousands of pilgrims fought to get at least a drop of water from the martyrs’ lake. Hell broke loose when the Mass ended at around 1:00 pm.
Armed with Jerry cans and bottles, hundreds of pilgrims started jostling to draw water from the taps installed by the Catholic church. Some of the pilgrims collapsed and were rushed out of the shrines by a standby emergency vehicle. “We are going to die here,” a youth speaking in Luganda commented as he withdrew from the crowd.
Although this young man was fighting to come out, hundreds were moving forward. Security officers led by officers from the elite Special Forces Command-SFC tried in vain to control the crowds by cutting off all routes leading to the manmade lake. Christians kept pushing forward toward the lake in search of the water.
“You want to kill us because of the water.” If so, then we are ready to die as martyrs did. “We want water,” an old woman shouted in the face of a military police officer who had raised his whip to disperse them. The officer maintained his cool and politely asked the woman to wait. “Mama, you want to die here?” “People will step on you,” the officer said politely.
At some point, as Prime Minister Robinna Nabbanjja was delivering the president’s speech, the pilgrims booed her and beat their Jerry cans in protest. It was a challenging moment for security. Later, one of the commanding officers came up with a solution to ensure that people had access to water without a stampede.
They later installed drums connected to the taps that draw water from the lake. Many pilgrims who flock to Namugongo to celebrate Martyr’s Day fetch water from the man-made lake. They have often given testimony that the water heals them of various ailments. As a norm, pilgrims scamper with jerry cans to get a share of the water after the day’s service. The water is drawn from both the Catholic and Anglican shrines.
This year, the Anglican church fenced off the spring where the water originates from, given the fact that the site is under major construction. However, this didn’t stop the pilgrims from drawing water downstream from the swamp. Some years ago, the pilgrims could dive into the lake as they rushed to draw water.
To reduce this risk, the church fenced off the lake and left points where pilgrims could get it from. A recent study by the Department of Biochemistry at Makerere University found that the “Holy Water” contains pathogenic microorganisms like E. coli and Coliforms, which are types of bacteria that can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, abdominal pain, and fever.
In 2019, the Namugongo Catholic secretariat, with the help of the National Water and Sewerage Corporation-WNWSC, treated the water to ensure that it is clean and safe for consumption. However, in recent years, the church has tried to treat, brand, and bottle water from the Uganda Martyrs’ lake.
However, the faithful have failed to adapt to the innovation as they prefer drawing the water in jerry cans, which they take to their respective homes at the end of the celebrations.