Customarily Zimbabwe’s traditional healers are governed and regulated by the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association. Other spiritual practitioners may perform the same tasks but not belong to the organization. The unconventional non-ZINATHA members are known to society as n’anga. N’anga are often consulted to solve spiritual mysteries in local villages, to help customers with money generating ideas and in come cases uncover witchcraft or mysterious circumstances.
However, in pursuit of a more lucrative means to make money some people (who give themselves titles such as Apostle, Evangelist, Bishop) have taken ZINATHA practices and slapped on the label of a church to gain followers and make millions of dollars in the process. I emphasize that they give themselves these titles so that readers know that we are not calling all church leaders frauds. These people who call themselves ‘prophets’, ‘apostles’, ‘evangelists’ and sometimes ‘bishop’ are mostly self-appointed leaders of a church they started usually under mysterious circumstances and demand loyalty and faith in themselves. While traditionally church has had a very positive effect on society, the new breed of young self-appointed church leaders is doing more of a disservice to society.
Zimbabwe has seen an increase in non-governmental organizations and human rights groups and media that are holding politicians accountable so politics is proving to be less alluring for those in the business of fast money in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s once robust underground economy where everyone was buying and selling anything to make a dollar just to survive has slowed down with the use of foreign currency and availability of commodities in stores. The use of foreign currency has made church business the most lucrative entrepreneurial venture in Zimbabwe. It is in this environment that cults and mystics are on the rise.
In a regular church service the Pastor asks the church to open their Bible to a certain verse and examines the text and teaches from that book. In contrast the mystics instruct their fans and followers to use their phones to open their bank accounts and see mysterious money. Once a woman erupted with laughter and jubilance and testified of thousands of dollars that had mysteriously appeared in her accounts. Others stand up and testify of these money miracles and it goes on and on. Now for those who have just a bit of education we understand that money merely changes hands through commerce. Someone always loses money while another gains it. But the congregants never bother to ask where the money is coming from.
These miracle services have become the order of the day for many residents throughout the region. Many real churches have blamed the rise of the cult leaders to globalization which has seen an influx of opportunists and tourists rushing into the country in search of riches and fans. Some of the more successful cult leaders drive only the latest Lamborghini, Maseratis Mercedes, Range and whatever luxury cars their heart desires. They are not shy about displaying the cars even during their so-called ‘miracle’ services.
These prophets are using mystical powers to perform miracles which defy Christian teaching. Anyone with a little knowledge about the spiritual can quickly realize that the nature of miracles performed at these services mimics occult practices that are not found in biblical texts. Their sacrilegious practices are a major concern to churches who want to distance themselves from these cults and their flamboyance and bizarre practices. There are fears in some circles of making of Jonestown in Zimbabwe as devoted fans, will do anything to prove the power of their prophet. (Jonestown was the informal name for the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, an intentional community in northwestern Guyana formed by the Peoples Temple led by Jim Jones where 909 people were killed through cyanide poisoning).
Reports from within these churches indicate they have created fans who want to dress like them and in some cases go out of their way to mimic their leaders. As I recall, Christianity is about being a follower of Christ in deeds and not in look. If it were looks then all Christians would be required to look Jewish. Loyal fans go out of their way to please their leaders with monetary gifts in ways we wonder if they would do for their kin.
The first Europeans to come to Southern Africa came to Mozambique, these were the Portuguese traders and missionaries. The missionaries did not make in roads on the continent until into the 19th century. The main form of religion was ancestral worship through spirit mediums who were believed to have a direct line to the ancestors who were revered for the belief that they could protect the living. In Zimbabwe in particular spirit mediums were instrumental in the rebellion against white settlers. The spirit mediums gave the fighters lotions and potions to protect them in the battle against the white settlers. The reality was that the spears were no match for the gun and the so called mighty warriors fell by the hundreds.
Those who stood by the sidelines realized that the spirit mediums and witch doctor potions did not work and forsook their ancestral worship and embraced the new culture. They embraced the new religion and the bible and its teachings as well because the churches built clinics and children stopped dying of common diseases such as malaria. In addition the missionaries built schools and children became educated.
What heritage will the Range Rover, Lamborghini and Jaguar driving preachers leave for the next generation? They will not speak out against injustice or fight for the poor, they have no concern for their neighbor unless he can pay tithes. What about the youth troubled by HIV-AIDS and the orphans. What about those who cannot afford food or school fees and cannot afford to see a doctor? I am not a prophet but I see a trail of tears and lost hope and I know this because the ‘prosperity gospel’ has failed everywhere it has been tried. It originated in the United States which until the recession of 2007 had flourished because of the housing bubble. As soon as Wall Street’s housing bubble burst then ‘prosperity gospel’ burst too. No more money lines and prosperity faith declarations as reality set in that it was all a hoax.
Article by Anna Mosi-Oa-Tunya 2013