Vendors in Mbare, high-density suburb of Harare, are making brisk business by selling cloths used in sewing church regalia or performing religious rituals, as more people turn to religion in the midst of increasing socio-economic problems

The enterprising vendors have taken advantage of the proliferation of Apostolic sects in Mbare to set up market stalls near areas where the churches hold their prayers. One vendor in Mbare, Honest Benza, 34, said selling the materials sustained  his family of four. “I used to have a stand inside the bus rank. But I lost it to someone else prompting me to look for other means of survival,” said Benza, a father of two. “One day, as I was walking into town, I saw several groups of people gathered for prayers and decided to supply them with some things they may need.”

Benzo said he started selling soft drinks and buns but was soon to realise that the congregants did not eat anything because they fasted most of the times. “Some would walk into town after the prayers. And I soon realised they were going to buy materials needed at church. There were people here who were already selling white cloths but I decided to buy more of the other colours like red, green, purple, satin [sic!], blue, pink and black.”

Most Apostolic sects use satin to make gowns they wear during baptism which they do frequently as part of their healing sessions. Most prefer immersion at rivers, where water is sometimes polluted by soil deposits, hence the use of satin which is more tolerant to polluted water than the popular white material. 

Pink, purple, blue, maroon and green cloths are used for gowns, mostly for church leaders. “Red and black are popular with those who visit traditional healers,” another vendor said. “But Apostolic members, too, do buy small pieces of the cloths for use in healing sessions.”

A quarter metre of the white cloth costs 50 US cents while the coloured material costs USD 2 per metre.

The vendors said selling the cloths in Mbare helped their customers save time and money for transport into town, where they would go before to stock up on the material. Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association spokesperson, George Kandiero, said different colours had different functions. “Various colours have different meanings, and these may also vary according to region and their sizes,” he said.

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