STREET preaching -mostly done by men, is a form of evangelism that has taken Zimbabwe’s urban business districts by storm.
Oblivious of the moving public, apparently unconcerned whether or not people listen to them or ignore them, street preachers have been around for as long as there has been religion and there have been streets.
For years, Harare’s First Street and Africa Unity Square where the prime spots for street preaching.
More recently, the preachers have spread farther afield.
There appears to be some sort of “time table”, as up to six speakers can use the same spot over the course of a day.
The preachers not only share their beliefs but also take the opportunity to sell religious materials and collect offerings.
They take turns to minister the gospel.
One of them, Patrick Katanda, says he loves what he does and he will continue despite insults and indifference from some sections of the public.
“To preach in the middle of a busy street is indeed notorious. As the synonyms of notorious explain, it is dishonourable, disreputable and disgraceful,” comments a shop-owner in the coveted First Street.
A female vendor says she does not know why there are now so many street preachers, all of whom seem to attract a crowd after a while.
“They are just there to inconvenience movement of people in the streets,” she adds, blissfully ignorant of her own illegal activities on the streets.
John Dzirongo, a Theology student who also takes time to minister at the famous “Mugomba” at the intersection of First Street and Speke Avenue, says: “I would prefer having street preachers than having pick-pockets, here in town.”
However, he warns that there are many con artistes taking advantage of street preaching to fleece the public of money.
Also, pick pockets take advantage of the captive audiences listening to street preachers to put their dark arts to use.
A victim of a pick pocket, Sengesai Sibanda, says she lost valuable items while listening to a street preacher.
“They strategically position themselves whilst the preacher diverts your attention with their sweet talk. People no longer stop here to listen to the Word of God because they fear being victims of these thieves,” she says.
Undeterred, street preachers soldier on, drawing some to conclude they may have a few marbles loose.
“This makes a reasonable believer to conclude that there is a weird correlation between their faith and action that lacks reasonableness and intelligent behaviour,” remarks Bernard Dzikutu, a pastor with Grace Ministries.
Pastor Andrew Chiota from Baptist Church adds: “Being a nuisance to the public is not to be considered as such, and if a preacher is insulted, they should take such a treatment in the spirit of martyrdom.”
From the Christian perspective, street preaching forms part of the Great Commission to spread Jesus Christ’s message to people of all nations, races and creeds.
But municipal authorities point out that street preaching is illegal.
“We are very much against this habit of people preaching in the street and wherever we will see them we will ask them to leave that place.
“These people are now disturbing the peace that people should enjoy in the city centre while doing their different activities,” says Mr Michael Chideme, the communications manager at the City of Harare.
“If they want to preach they should invite their followers to their churches not (to preach in) the street.”