There are so many false impressions about followers of the various apostolic sects in the country although Johanne Marange and Johanne Masowe sects are believed to command the biggest following.
According to a research by Francis Machingura titled A Diet of Wives as the Lifestyle of the Vapostori Sects: The Polygamy Debate in the Face of HIV and Aids in Zimbabwe, 75% of Zimbabweans profess to be Christian, 20% of which accounts for the apostolic sects.
“The percentage figure of the apostolic sects in the Zimbabwean spiritual market then translates to more than two-and-half million followers. In 1999, the Johanne Marange church alone was estimated to have around one million affiliates in Zimbabwe, with thousands more in countries further north; making it the second or third largest denomination in Zimbabwe,” Machingura says in his research.
“If the Johanne Marange sect has approximately more than one million followers, this will imply that the combined number of people who subscribe to the apostolic sects will be much higher.
What is interesting is that the exact figure of members belonging to these apostolic sects cannot be established with certainty as no official count has ever been done.”
These sects, however, have often been described as demonic or primitive, where members are desperate to getting a “quickfix” to either their social problems or illnesses. Some people actually view the members as illiterate because they survive on odd jobs like making baskets, welding and other handcraft skills.
But judging by the posh vehicles that park at their shrines, including one at the intersection of Seke and Cripps roads headed by one Madzibaba Wimbo, they certainly command a following that goes beyond poor and uneducated.
Although most sect members refused to speak to NewsDay, one female executive at a leading medical aid society gave an interesting insight.
“Many people scorn Johanne Masowe weChishanu, for example, as it is regarded as a following for hopelessly destitute people,” she said. “Some actually think that we are a disordered lot and yet in reality the opposite is the truth.”
She said she was proud to be part of this following by choice, not because she was destitute as she held a university degree and led a normal life. She said there were many such women in apostolic sects, some of whom drove top-of-the-range vehicles like BMWs, Mercedes Benzs and Ford Rangers.
“Our particular sect of the Johanne Masowe weChishanu allows its members to seek medical attention and only need to seek spiritual guidance and protection from the Holy Spirit before going to the hospital,” she said.
The women were also very fashion-conscious as they often sported expensive white linen, organza and silk material.
“We, however, wear very short, but neat hair and the only jewellery that we put on is the wedding band that symbolises one man for one woman,” the woman said.
A member of another sect in Warren Park said most of what was written about the sects were just myths and misconceptions about their faith and practices.
The man, a university graduate with two Masters’ degrees, said: “They call our gatherings sects because they are not organised like mainstream churches.”
His wife, who was dressed in her white attire and head dress, is a retired accountant and currently has been working together with her husband as marriage counsellors.
He said around the 1940s, the church founder, Johanne Masowe, urged his followers not to go to school, specifically to avoid being drafted into the army to fight the Second World War.
“He said if children went to school they would be rounded up and fight in World War II just like what happened around the late 70s when high school leavers in the then Rhodesia were required to go for the call-up for war against the liberation fighters. It was just a situational interpretation in the 1940s, but we now have a stance against some of these congregational groups that have stopped children from going to school,” he said.
Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe president Johannes Ndanga said there were five sub-sects of the original Johanne Masowe weChishanu sect with over 1 000 congregations.
In his research, Machingura noted that Marange and Johanne Masowe sects do not own properties like church buildings arguing that God had not approved of church buildings such that they assemble in open spaces or under huge trees.
Another researcher, Isabel Mukonyora, also noted that Johanne Masowe was inspired by Shoniwa Masedza Mtunyane. He was a prophet who wandered throughout Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) in the 1930s, causing alarm among the colonial authorities.
“In 1932 Johanne Masowe first drew the attention of the police in Mashonaland towns, mines, and commercial farms. By making borders of landscapes sites for prayer, he pointed to the displacement of Shona people . . . Johanne was arrested at least five times during the 1930s for walking around preaching repentance for sins of adultery and witchcraft and offering baptism for those who repented,” the research read in part.
“He repeatedly disturbed the peace by turning up on unoccupied land, which whites wanted to remain empty to create borders between the different pockets of the city landscape. This sacred wilderness, located on the fringes of worksites, residential neighbourhoods and highways, is the source of the Masowe Apostles’ name. John the Baptist, the voice that cries in the wilderness near the River Jordan, is the biblical image from which the Shona name Johanne Masowe and this pattern of ritual behaviour were derived. Johanne Masowe breached colonial norms by calling people out to pray in places that Rhodesian administrators wished to keep empty and then vanishing, only to surface in another place whose fringes could serve as sites for prayer.”
Vapostori is a belief system that those who profess it claim resembles the Acts of Apostles in the Bible.
Johanne Masowe started this in 1930s and initially settled in South Africa, but was deported in 1961 and settled in Chitungwiza where there is a high concentration of followers.
“In 1964 after Zambia had gained independence, he crossed into that country and spread his tentacles to Tanzania . . . but now the church has so many splits and they have gone to other parts of Africa except North, West Africa and Malawi where there is clear-cut resistance to Christianity because of Islamic influence,” said the Warren Park-based faithful.
Johanne Masowe died in 1973 on the Copperbelt in Zambia and today there is a section called Mandebvu Compound in Lusaka, Zambia, where most of these VaPostori are concentrated.
The follower noted that the Vapostori sect in terms of structure is congregational with one founding leader or president, where each and every congregation may operate differently because there are no laid-down rules or regulations that govern operations like what happens at mainline churches.
This perhaps explains the unorthodox practices that are being conducted at some of these sects where, for example, male members have been accused of conducting virginity tests.
“The Vapostori are concentrated in areas like, for example, Hurungwe and Mutoko in Mashonaland Central and the border areas.
“The people that initially brought the Vapostori to the city were blacks that had come to work as gardeners, domestic workers and other menial jobs and hence it was a sect that was despised. And so it took many decades for those that were in the mainline churches to appreciate this religious practice, but today we have members from virtually every social strata,” said the Warren Park sect member.
“People need to research and find out exactly how we operate and not to tar us all with one brush. You will be surprised, if not shocked, to find that there many politicians and academics that are members of Johanne Masowe weChishanu,” he said.