Zimbabweans are a very spiritual people. Their traditional religion is based on the belief in the power of the spirits of their ancestors to link them with one supreme deity. This traditional religion goes back to the very foundation of their humanity; to the beginning of time.
The advent of Christianity, first with the coming of the Portuguese more than 500 years ago and then with the coming of the European missionaries such David Livingstone in the 19th century, did little to alter Zimbabwean spirituality.
The Shona, for example, continued to pray through spirit mediums and to consult traditional diviners in times of trouble. Even as the 20th century wore on, various surveys established that more than 95% of Zimbabweans consulted n’angas at least once in their lifetimes.
There are pseudo-Christian churches that have attempted to have a bit of both worlds; they use the Bible in worship, but also depend on spirit mediums. The so-called Apostolic sects are examples of such churches.
The traditional Christian churches such as the Catholic and all Protestant churches have tried without success over the years to entrench European Christian values in a way that banishes traditional African practices totally.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Pentecostal movement has found fertile ground to proliferate in Zimbabwe. The idea of prophecy has lived in the Zimbabwean psyche for millennia; traditional diviners predicted anything from rainfall patterns, success of hunting escapades and war outcomes, to successes or failures of individuals in every endeavour.
Traditional healers and diviners were regulated in a way. The communities could tell the genuine from the fake; in any case, people didn’t just become n’angas or rainmakers, they had to go through some kind of initiation which their whole community took part in.
The same has not happened in the new era of the prosperity gospel and the prophets that seem to mushroom all over the place.
The call, therefore, to investigate the practices of these new churches, if genuine, is most welcome. Interestingly, any opposition to such a move will come most vehemently from the followers of the new cults. This is understandable since the churches thrive on the charisma of their leaders. Charismatic church leaders brainwash their followers until they accept everything they say as gospel truth.
But most of the followers really need help. Unfortunately, this help cannot come from government or even from often-competing faiths. The help can only come from history. It’s not like what is happening today hasn’t happened before. How many young Zimbabweans have heard about the Guyana tragedy?
ZBC television should be digging up films and histories of charismatic churches and showing them to the nation. Multichoice, too, should come up with relevant films that educate their viewers on wayward beliefs.
Only through education can people be liberated from fake religious practices.