by Sinikiwe Mlambo and RelZim staff

The church is spending more time burying its members than baptising them because of its silence on HIV/AIDS, according to Maxwell Kapachawo, an Abandoned Grace Ministries pastor. In 2005, he became the first religious figure in Zimbabwe to go public about being HIV positive

Kapachawo spoke at the recent workshop attended by representatives from the National AIDS Council (NAC), Zimbabwe AIDS Network, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, various NGOs and faith- based organizations. The workshop was organized by Africare

Addressing members of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Methodist Development and Relief Agency and the Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe, Kapachawo said the church is discriminatory on HIV and related topics but tops the list in stigmatisation of infected people who are often branded sinners. “We have been found wanting in the fight against HIV and AIDS because many pastors did not learn anything that has to do with the epidemic. Discussing HIV with church members becomes a taboo. And yet we have been losing members more often than not.”

Dr. Tapiwa Magure, CEO of the NAC, said that “the church is supposed to continue informing and educating members about the importance of antiretroviral therapy. ..It is now incumbent upon church members to overcome the challenges of stigma and discrimination for them to also benefit from the freely available life-prolonging drugs.”

According to The Sunday Mail, Canon Gideon Byamugisha from the Anglican Church of Uganda founded the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS (Inerela) in the early 1990s. The local chapter, Inerela+Zimbabwe (formerly known as Zinerela+), also came on board.

Pastor Kapachawo pioneered Zinerela+ in 2004 and the organisation was officially launched in December 2005. Today the organisation is in eight provinces in the country and wishes to cover the remaining two when funds permit. The local chapter is now headed by Reverend Zvidzai Chiponda from the Evangelical Lutheran Church.