Pastor Emmanuel Makandiwa (photo:M. Chibaya).

Pastor Emmanuel Makandiwa (photo:M. Chibaya).

RECENT public utterances by Emmanuel Makandiwa of the United Family International Churchbacked fellow charismatic preacher, Walter Magaya of theProphetic Healing and Deliverance Church, purported to be a holy vision opposed to mass action against the establishment cannot and should not go unchallenged, for it sets a bad precedent in the fight for emancipation and poverty eradication in the country and Africa in general.

Makandiwa, being a messenger of God, as he claims, through whom the Almighty reveals his secrets to his people, claims to have seen a swarm of bees sweeping out from one end of the forest before being confronted by another, with the tragic end being rivers of blood across the land. Either by coincidence or design, the revelation came within the backdrop of calls by the opposition for mass action against the establishment over the country’s deepening socio-economic and political fortunes. In this regard, Makandiwa, being a man of God occupies a strategic position in society, posted high on the watchtower, guarding society against impending danger.

Regrettably, neither the UFC founder, Magaya nor any of the charismatic prophets that roam this impoverished Southern African state will extricate their thousands of followers, let alone the general populace, from poverty in spite of the high hopes heaped on prosperity theology. Instead, their teaching nurtures and propagates the poverty that the prosperity gospel purports to fight while enriching its founders who have turned into multi-millionaires overnight. In fact, charismatic preachers, Makandiwa included, collude with the establishment to perpetuate poverty, for it is in poverty that prosperity theology flourishes better than in any other environment.

Indeed, there exist a symbiotic relationship between the Mugabe regime and charismatic preachers, implying that Makandiwa, along with Magaya and the other mushrooming prophets, need Mugabe and his establishment in as much as the dictator thrives on them to perpetuate his grip on power, prolonging the suffering of millions, 34 years after independence. Doesn’t Psychology Maziwisa, double as Zanu PF’s deputy director of information as well as being Makandiwa’s spokesperson? And, who claimed recently that Makandiwa is the greatest prophet of all time after Isaiah of the Old Testament? It is one thing for Makandiwa to exercise his freedom of association by being a Zanu PF member and a different scenario altogether for the preacher to collude with the regime in suppressing freedom of expression by the oppressed as evidenced by his dubious vision of bees.

In fact, Makandiwa and Magaya as well as the plethora of marauding prophets who have mushroomed at the height of the country’s socio-economic and political meltdown need Zanu PF for survival in as much as the latter thrives on them to entrench its dictatorship. It is under Mugabe’s dictatorship and poor governance that poverty arises which in turn is exploited by charismatic preachers to draw crowds.  It follows that the appeal of prosperity gospel is diminished once poverty is removed from the equation and without it, charismatic preachers lose a following, hence Makandiwa’s opposition to the gospel of emancipation on the feeble grounds that it results in loss of life and the destabilisation of an already fragile economy.

The preacher thrives on the poverty of his followers to fleece them of the little in their possession. As such the threat to the status quo implied by mass action is viewed as a dangerous precedent by charismatic preachers because it could result in the elimination of the poverty which happens to be the bait that the very preachers rely on to lure congregants. Makandiwa, just like Magaya and others, therefore celebrate poverty that has its roots in dictatorship and poor governance. Indeed, contrary to the notion that prosperity gospel enriches its followers, it actually only enriches its founders while perpetuating the suffering of ordinary congregants who are made to survive on hope.

It is in their material interests that, Makandiwa and other charismatic prophets support a status quo which has reduced millions of innocent souls to paupers. Again, prosperity prophets are insulated from the poverty that ravages the country and threatens the very existence of congregants and that partly explains Makandiwa’s satisfaction with the state of the economy which he doesn’t want to see disturbed by mass action.

And, as if the prophet happens to be Mugabe’s spokesperson, Makandiwa once again gives hope where there none exists by claiming that the country’s hardships would be short-lived as was revealed in another vision.  In the mind-set of the flamboyant prophet, the status quo has to be maintained. That is why these prophets indirectly fighting in Mugabe’s corner to perpetuate the suffering of millions, telling believers that they can survive on miracle money and anointing water which is believed to usher in abundant blessings!

In this gloomy context, it’s no wonder that even the convicted rapist Robert Martin Gumbura of the RMG End Times Ministries joins the bandwagon from his prison, baying for Joice Mujuru’s head, for, in his calculation, and just like Makandiwa and Magaya’s, their unwavering support for Zanu PF isn’t an option but a survival strategy at the expense of the poor they claim to shepherd.

Among their congregants, Makandiwa, Magaya and others need prominent individuals from the impoverished society who have apparently weathered poverty as proof that, in spite of the prevailing hardships, some can prosper, supposedly, through blessings from God, hence the Chiyangwas, Chombos, Matongos and others occupying the VIP seats during church services. The inclusion of such prominent figures during church services is a public relations stunt meant to captivate the hopes of congregants who will dream of becoming rich one day through blessings from anointing water. Really, is Chiyangwa’s wealth, let alone Chombo’s, a result of God’s blessings?

It is no wonder that Walter Mzembi, Zimbabwe’s minister of Tourism dreams of transforming the country into a religious tourist destination along the model of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, for, in charismatic prophets, the regime senses a lucrative source of wealth that can be tapped to entrench its grip on power in as much as prosperity preachers need Mugabe to perpetuate poverty so as to make their gospel appealing, hence, the symbiotic relationship.  Likewise, politicians need these flamboyant preachers not only for influence among congregants but for financial support.  It would not surprise many to realise that some of these prophets bankroll the regime in return for favours.

On the other hand, Mugabe needs the Makandiwas and Magayas for strategic reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with religion. Prosperity gospel, as propounded by charismatic preachers has, among other effects, the power of diverting the attention of congregants from focussing on the genesis of their demise to peripheral issues. Makandiwa and Magaya strive to give their followers the impression that they are poor economically because they have lost favour with God. In other words, congregants need to rekindle their lost relationship with God to be showered with blessings and, at best, through tithing.

In fact, what prosperity preachers conceal is the fact that Zimbabweans are poor, not because of their laziness, or because they are non-believers who deserve the scourge of a curse from God; rather the genesis of the country’s poverty lies in poor governance. In this regard, to eradicate poverty among millions of impoverished Zimbabweans, there is an urgent need to address the underlying causes behind the country’s demise – factors that implicate Mugabe whom Makandiwa shields.

Prosperity gospel does not address the underlying causes behind poverty in Zimbabwe, and Africa in general, but instead focuses on individuals’ failure to establish close ties with God through giving, and by so doing, diverts the attention of victims from the bread and butter issues that shape their lives. In this way, religion becomes a sort of spiritual booze.  Mugabe needs Makandiwa and Magaya to perpetuate this gospel of diversion in the same way the incumbent thrives on the sanctions mantra.

Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso was overthrown by mass action by the oppressed because they are aware that their poverty is rooted in poor governance as opposed to a curse from God as Makandiwa would like his congregants to believe.  Instead, it is the looted diamonds of Chiadzwa, contrary to miracle gold/diamonds or the anointing water that enriches the impoverished millions in the country. Surprisingly, as diamonds are looted at Chiadzwa by Mugabe and his cronies, Magaya and Makandiwa are silent, only to emerge from hibernation when there is threat of mass action against the regime.

Indeed, the prophet’s $300,000 Mercedes Benz that he drives is not acquired through miracle money; neither is it a product of anointing water. In any case, why would the prophet acquire a gold milling plant in Mutawatawa from the Chinese, if rumours that circulate in the media are anything to go by, if gold or diamonds can rain from the sky like manna?  By preaching the gospel of subjugation through dubious visions and giving hope where there isn’t, Makandiwa and others collude with Mugabe in perpetuating not only poverty but oppression as well, thus rendering the prosperity message contradictory.

It is worth noting that in Africa where poverty is a part of life, religion has become more of a lucrative business enterprise than a calling. Zimbabwe’s dire socio-economic and political crisis provides fertile ground for the mushrooming of charismatic preachers and it is no coincidence that the Makandiwas and Magayas emerged during this crisis. This is not a unique phenomenon but a common feature worldwide where high unemployment, rising inflation and the emergence of diseases such as Ebola and AIDS wreak havoc. Even in the US where prosperity theology originated, the gospel gained traction with the black community who happened to be the poorest in society.  The message by charismatic preachers gives hope to the hopeless and feeds the hungry spiritually but it is unable to fill their tummies.

Regrettably, congregants are made to pursue the wrong medicine through perverse diagnosis that doesn’t help their plight. In this way, Makandiwa and Magaya follow in the footsteps of David Oyedepo of the Winners’ Chapel Movement who is estimated to be worth £93 million and runs a fleet of private jets. As Leo Igwe of Nigeria Humanist Movement argues, these churches are “big business being managed by entrepreneurs” and, as he observes, “it is a result of poverty, social and economic collapse. Nigerians have become desperate, and gullible, and these churches service this market.’’

In England, interesting to note that most congregants in these churches are almost entirely made up of black people, especially West Africans but surprisingly, they happen to be the poorest in society. Where is the prosperity that these charismatic preachers propagate when its followers languish in poverty except its founders who have the luxury of acquiring a fleet of private jets? Does Makandiwa believe that anyone takes him seriously when he claims that his fortune arises from trading shares at the London Stock Exchange?

It is important to realise that in spite of the rapid growth of prosperity churches in many parts of Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where poverty has increased in the past 25 years. In this regard, according to statistics, prosperity theology isn’t bringing prosperity at all to the continent but instead sows poverty. It’s a flawed teaching that flourishes in contexts of terrible poverty, and that for many people, represents their only hope in the face of frustration, the failure of politicians and NGOs to create a better future or even a bearable present.

On a lighter note, as one observer concluded, for young, healthy, anxious strivers who need reinforcement in the face of discouragement, the prosperity gospel is a much less harmful way of escaping the world than either drugs or gambling and it will not make them nearly as poor as those do, even if it never makes them rich. In  the developed world, where citizens are empowered economically, they don’t rely on  the powers of miracles as is the case in Makandiwas’ make-believe world but on scientific knowledge and good governance which  ensures  that  governments are accountable to their people in contrast to Makandiwa’s opposition to mass action  against Mugabe.

In the same way, Rome was not built on miracles and neither was Qatar transformed from a barren desert into the richest country on the planet today by prosperity theology, Africa cannot be an exception to have its own unique developmental pattern. Never in a million years will poverty be eradicated in Zimbabwe by the teachings of the Makandiwas, for all they do is divert the attention of victims from the real causes behind their demise into pursuing the peripheral. It’s synonymous to the folly of the proverbial man who leaves his house in flames to pursue a rat fleeing from it. What are our dreams; miracle diamonds/gold to transform the country’s battered fortunes as the Makandiwas urge or a direct confrontation with the establishment in opposition to the prophet’s vision of bees? Indeed, the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.