Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Zimbabweans Hope for Divine Intervention

Despairing of politics, many people here are looking to religion to turn their fortunes around.
By Nonthando Bhebhe
Millions of Zimbabweans, bewildered by their ever-deepening impoverishment, are turning to religious to survive the multiple crises afflicting the country.

With more than 85 per cent of the population living on less than the equivalent of one US dollar a day, 4,000 people dying of AIDS-related illnesses each week and inflation exceeding 1000 per cent, Zimbabweans see God now as the last hope for themselves, their families and for the country.

Many leaders of the various Christian communities here are openly praying for "divine intervention" to pull Zimbabwe out of the mire. Indeed, the country's leading Roman Catholic, Bulawayo's Archbishop Pius Ncube, regularly describes President Robert Mugabe as an "evil" man and says publicly that he prays "the Good Lord will take Mugabe away from us … Everyone is fed up with him. We're all hoping against hope that something will happen".

Pastor Elfas Zadzagomo of Faith Ministries - part of an international apostolic movement with headquarters in Oxford, England, and with 42 churches across Zimbabwe - said more and more people are being counselled in churches because of economic and social pressures.

"When people face problems they seek consolation in the church where they meet with other people with similar problems and share their experiences," he said. "It relieves the pressures. We are also counsellors who help people through their problems."

Pastor Brian Keith Williams, from the United States, was recently amazed by the thousands of people who turned out recently at a conference he attended in Harare's New Life Covenant Church, which regularly has 5,000 worshippers and now plans a new church building to accommodate a congregation of 10,000.

Williams said the praise and worship in Zimbabwe was electrifying, like nothing he had experienced in the US or on preaching visits to Britain, countries where life was comparatively much easier and where much smaller numbers of people had experienced extreme poverty.

Millions are now turning to the power of prayer, rather than politics, to achieve their goals. One New Life Covenant congregant, Muchaneta Mharapara, told IWPR, "I pray and fast when I want something and I always get it. I prayed for the job I got and I prayed for the man in my life and now we are getting married in December.

"In Zimbabwe, if all of us had the faith I have and prayed as much as I do, we would be able to get out of this mess. Our leaders have failed and I don't see them coming up with solutions. They need to pray and ask for forgiveness and give their lives to God."

Some top ranking politicians, apparently despairing of their failed efforts to halt their countrymen's slide into despair and misery, are openly saying they are turning to God.

Joseph Msika, one of two vice presidents, has been ordained as a lay pastor in the Anglican Church, while his fellow vice president Joice Mujuru was promoted to captain in the Salvation Army. Two cabinet ministers are believed to have applied to train as Roman Catholic priests.

Even Emmerson Mnangagwa, the powerful former intelligence chief backed by many to succeed President Mugabe, has announced that he is a born-again Christian.

"I think their consciences are troubling them," said sociologist Professor Gordon Chavunduka, former vice chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe. "They have a lot of tension and stress because they have no idea which way the country should be driven."

Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono always laces his otherwise mind-numbingly dull speeches on the economy with Biblical quotations.

In his most recent quarterly Monetary Policy Framework statement, Gono inserted five quotations from the Bible, and ended, "Into the Lord's hands, I commit this Monetary Policy Framework for our economic turnaround."

Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa, a Methodist Church lay preacher, likes to say that divine intervention is necessary to save Zimbabwe, but goes on to quote from the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah to say that "God has a plan for Zimbabwe".

What, however, Murerwa never does is to quote some of the fieriest warnings Jeremiah reported God as giving to leaders of the people, such as, "They shall die of grievous deaths; they shall not be lamented; neither shall they be buried; but they shall be as dung upon the face of the earth; and they shall be consumed by the sword, and by famine; and their carcasses shall be meat for the fowls of heaven, and for the beats of the earth." [Jeremiah, ch 16, v 4]

Even for non-believers and followers of other faiths, it is difficult to escape Zimbabwe's new Christian religious revival. Gospel songs top the current music charts; evangelical preachers are on TV daily; political rallies, and even military parades, are enlivened with songs in praise of God.

Prosperous young Zimbabweans interviewed by IWPR frequently attributed their success to their strong faith in God. This reflects the way Protestant Evangelical preachers, especially those with connection to American missions, have focused on empowerment and encouraging their followers to engage in activities that will pull them out of poverty.

Ronnie Kaseke, a leading member of Zimbabwe's Apolostic Faith Mission, with international headquarters in El Paso, Texas, said, “ What we need to do is to stop attracting negativity. If you are positive, positive things happen to you. The problem with Zimbabweans is that all we do is complain, we are not positive in our outlook.”

Kaseke, who is also a leading financial consultant, owning a large house in the leafy Harare suburb of Borrowdale, and the father of children who attend the city's most expensive private schools, went on, "The church teaches us to be positive and to have faith in the Lord. It teaches us to fend for ourselves, to strategise and set goals so that we prosper.

“It discourages us from begging or borrowing. With God, nothing is impossible. With prayer, you can remove the curses of poverty, progress hindrances and open the doors of success, prosperity and financial fulfillment."

And Tafadzwa Masango, another Apostolic Faith Mission member, said, "Most people are coming to church now because of economic hardships. They come for counselling and when they see prosperous, devout Christians it gives them hope. It is all about having hope because people's spirits have been broken down by poverty and this can lead to suicides."

Nonthando Bhebhe is the pseudonym of an IWPR reporter in Zimbabwe.

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