Reflections from Zimbabwe – The Zimbabwe Mail


However, religious beliefs, practices and institutions have important influences, and these have changed over time. Over the past few months, the research team at sites across Zimbabwe have explored how religion encroaches on daily life and thus affects how farming, land use and broader patterns of support social are practiced.

Today, the rise of Pentecostal and traditional African Christian churches is a prominent feature. “Traditional” African religious practice is no longer as widespread as it once was, and the earlier influence of these central churches in colonial-era missionary activity is waning.

However, the pattern varies from place to place. In some of our sites, for example, the Roman Catholic Church remains prominent, building on the long heritage of missionary education and strong rural presence. In others, it is the Pentecostal churches that have seen a major increase, with the now divided AFM (Apostolic Faith Mission) at the heart of local life. Everywhere many new churches are being established by “prophets”, claiming healing and other powers.

Across our sites, there are three broad categories of institutionalized Christian religion that exist alongside and sometimes in tension with traditional forms of territorial and spirit-based traditional religion. How do they relate to agriculture and rural livelihoods, and thus land control, investment patterns and knowledge sharing around agriculture?

Missionary influences

Early Christian churches in our study areas were either Protestant (such as United Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, Zimbabwe Reformed Church (formerly Dutch Reformed Church), Church of Christ, and Anglicans ) or Roman Catholics. Early arrivals established missions and associated schools, hospitals, teacher training centers, printing houses, etc., such as the huge Morgenster complex under the RCZ. By translating the Bible, they influenced the “civilizing” mission of the colonial state, and through this they influenced agriculture (see the next blog in this series).

Committed to both academic and professional training, these churches provided an educational infrastructure across the country, with many contemporary leaders receiving their education in missionary institutions. In different parts of the country, different religious denominations dominated, reflecting earlier missionary efforts. In our study areas, Catholic influence in Gokomere is significant, particularly through the school, while in Morgenster elsewhere in Masvingo Province, the RCZ has enormous influence.

The provision of education, especially in colonial times before the education of Africans became widespread, was extensive, and many liberation warlords passed through such systems. Although associated with colonial conquest through missionary activity and closely linked to the colonial state through the provision of education and training in “African” regions, these churches had a liberal sensibilities and many leaders of churches became involved in the struggle for national liberation (see blog later in this series). Investment in vocational skills training, including agriculture, was important in all churches, with different denominations having different goals. Concentrated in Manicaland, the Methodists, for example, are well known for supporting training in carpentry and other skills, while the RCZ has long had significant agricultural projects.

More recent arrivals, which now have large followings across the country – such as Seventh-day Adventists – have a wide range of activities associated with their churches. As someone has described it, the church is like government – ​​health, education, etc. are provided, along with support through the church for businesses and other activities. The whole life of the people is oriented around the church and the teachings of the Bible, with pastors and preachers assuming important roles in the communities. As with other Protestant churches, spiritualism is formally rejected and people dress elegantly in European clothing. Other practices are deemed “too African” and church services are seen as “more like a meeting” rather than the more dynamic forms of spiritualism seen in other evangelical and indigenous African churches. Laying on of hands, casting out demons, etc. are frowned upon, although some admit that some pastors are beginning to incorporate these practices on the fringes.

Although congregations are declining, these churches remain significant across Zimbabwe, and in our sites the SDA sees growing numbers of Protestant churches, while Roman Catholics continue to invest in development activities, now through formalized NGOs, such as CADEC or Caritas, and progressive institutions such as Silveira House, linked to ‘liberation theology’ movements and Freirian approaches to ‘training for transformation’. Significant resource flows come from outside the country through churches linked to Zimbabwean partners.

The rise of the Pentecostal religion

However, the religious landscape in Zimbabwe is changing, particularly with the rise of Evangelical Pentecostal churches and indigenous African churches of many types. Among the Pentecostals, the AFM (Apostolic Faith Mission) – and its splinter group Later Rain – are particularly prominent in our sites, along with Zaoga and Members in Christ, for example. These churches are led by charismatic leaders – such as Prophet Magaya for PHD Ministries and Emmanuel Makandiwa for United Family International Church) – and many have strong ties to South Africa, where some are from. The AFM is particularly dominant in Chatsworth, Gutu, where the Rufaro Mission hosts a school and its three massive revival rallies held each year, where thousands of people descend on the area. These churches built temples and large halls of worship and invested in schools and even universities. They have farms and church projects, as well as other business investments such as stores and hotels.

They raise significant funds through tithing contributions from their congregations, with congregants being asked to contribute up to 10% of their salaries. With relatively wealthy church members, they carry significant financial clout and attract corporate and political interests. Local Pentecostal followers overlap with others from elsewhere on the continent, notably from Nigeria (such as the late TB Joshua) and the influence of American evangelical preachers (such as Christ Embassy and others from Billy Graham onwards) visiting the country has long been a feature.

Preachers encourage a commitment to self-reliance, with the holy spirit guiding practices, including in agriculture. Formally, they reject the role of other ancestral spirits, although some n’angas claim they got involved, and some groups offer a more flexible interpretation, encouraging a more syncretic belief system, though not going as far as the indigenous African churches (see below).

The Importance of Prophets

African indigenous churches can take many forms. The most formalized in Zimbabwe are the ZCC (Zion Christian Church) and the Johanne Marange Apostolic Church, to which are added a large number of small churches led by self-proclaimed prophets (Johanne Masowe and more broadly those classified as Madzibaba). A syncretic blend of Old and New Testament Christian teachings and spirit-based religion, tied to ancestors and traditional religion, is observed. This has significant impacts on agriculture at all of our sites.

The ZCC has significant resources through tithes paid by the faithful and, like other formalized churches, has invested in farms, schools and businesses and there is a huge conference center at Mbungo near Masvingo. Johanne Marange, on the other hand, has less infrastructure beyond the seat at Manicaland, as worship takes place under trees and on mountains. The many Johanne Masowe prophets, each with small followers, often have shrines in their homes.

There is a great focus among apostolic churches in a commitment to self-reliance. The faithful of the Johanne Marange church are associated with the know-how of tinsmithing, welding, electrical engineering and run numerous workshops both in rural areas and in town. They are deeply engaged in commercial farming and, as discussed in the next blog in this series, many markets are dominated by followers of the apostolic faith in our study areas.

Although less formalized, the large number of local prophets among Johanne Masowe’s followers offers an even more explicit blend of traditional religion and Christian preaching. The dress codes mirror those the mediums use (black, white, red) and the range of artifacts used (clay pots, earth, salt, bone, etc.) are barely distinguishable. Addiction to herbs and divination is associated with spiritualism, the laying on of hands, and healing through spirit possession. These prophets often use religion as a means of sustenance, coming to new areas to gain land and followers.

Across all of our sites, the religious association reported in our 2017/18 survey in Gutu/Masvingo, for example, suggested a dominance of new African indigenous churches (53%) over Pentecostal churches (25%), Protestants (12%) and Roman Catholics (10%). %) (see table), but this probably underestimates the importance of the new prophets who have risen to prominence in recent years. Although they are sometimes dismissed by those associated with more formal religious denominations as “false prophets”, peddling non-Christian beliefs and practices, they are nevertheless numerically significant. Meanwhile, the commercial and political influence of companies like ZCC cannot be underestimated, while in a more mundane way, adherents of the apostolic faith of Johanne Marange are reshaping agriculture at many of our sites in ways important.

Table: Declared religious affiliation of resident heads of household attending “churches” at Gutu and Masvingo A1 sites (2017-18 survey)

Catholic ten%
RCZ 5%
SDA 4%
Methodist 2%
AFM 16%
Other Pentecostals (including Zaoga, members in Christ) 9%
CCZ 21%
Apostolic Johan Marange 25%
Apostolic Johan Masowe 8%

The next blogs in this short series look at particular aspects of this new dynamic, with the next looking in more detail at agriculture and markets. This is followed by another which will focus on the politics of religion in land and agriculture, as well as more broadly, while the last in the series examines how religion shapes the way farmers respond to an environment. uncertain.

This blog was first published on Zimbabweland and compiled by Ian Scoones. It is powered by contributions from Judy Bwerinofa (Triangle), Jacob Mahenehene (Chikombedzi), Makiwa Manaka (Chatsworth), Bulisie Mlotshwa (Matobo), Felix Murimbarimba (Masvingo/Hippo Valley), Moses Mutoko (Wondedzo) and Vincent Sarayi (Mvurwi )


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