It is amazing how many businesses in Zimbabwe, manifest their Christian identity. I am thinking of prayers on intercity buses before the beginning of the trip or Bibles available for clients at companies’ reception halls. Some time ago, I remember there was this debate at the European parliament about the legitimacy of withdrawing crucifixes from the Italian secondary educations institutions. Although eventually the cross was left out in its place (after a convincing speech by a Jewish speaker), ironically, Europe is far behind Zimbabwe in manifestation of its Christian identity. Erica Bornstein’s research on Protestant NGOs in Zimbabwe could give some answers to this.
Although, by Western standards, slightly old, I think this book is still relevant to what is going on the Zimbabwean society today.
An urban and (culturally) Jewish woman from the United States, as this anthropologist describes herself, Erica spent several years between the US and Zimbabwe looking at the developmental activities of the international World Vision and Christian Care (a development branch of Zimbabwe Council of Churches) in the 1990s. She once got mugged, constantly taken for a donor in the rural Mashonaland and, thus, solicited for money and almost got converted by her interviewees in Harare offices of these two organizations,
The results of her research were subsequently published by Stanford University Press in 2005 under the title The Spirit of Development: Protestant NGOs, morality, and economics in Zimbabwe.
I got particularly intrigued by a passage (p.156) on jealousy, witchcraft and legitimation of success in Christian development projects. I encourage RelZim.org readers to share their views on Erica Bornstein’s observation:
If development promised success, which in turn could invoke the danger of witchcraft, then Christianity offered protection. Just as colonial missionaries offered refuge to outcasts, misfits, and accused “witches” by giving them a home and work on mission stations, Christian NGOs offered justification and some degree of protection for individual success. To declare oneself Christian was to say “”I don’t believe in muti, varoyi, or x, because I am Christian.” More importantly, with belief in Jesus, defined as a “higher” power, one could be protected from the malevolence of others. For Christians in Zimbabwe, there was clearly less social stigma about getting wealthy. Christian business was “good business.”