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Zim Churches' Risky Lack of Caution on Political Loyalties

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By Takura Zhangazha*

These are probably awkward times for Zimbabwe’s ‘African Pentecostal/Apostolic’ church leaders.  Only a couple of months ago some of them were fawning before the former first lady and her cohorts and praying for the long life and rule of her husband. On new year’s eve some of them organised a national prayer meeting with the new president and his wife in Bulawayo that was broadcast live on state television.

While the president was different, the script was the same.  A lot of praise and endorsement for the new president and significant recognition of the first lady.  And the old habit that will probably never die, declaring electoral support for the president in the now much more imminent harmonised election of this year.

Throw in a couple of quips about the fact that most African churches pray in the open and require governments intervention to allocate them ‘stands’ and the script is complete in praise and worship.

In other media stories there is as expected, positive prophecies about the new president and how he will, with the help of God and the intervention of the self-styled prophet, lead the country to greater things or prosperity.  All in the space of a year (2018).

The orthodox churches have been a little bit quieter on the praise front.  Though one of their clergy and specifically from the Catholic church, Fr Mukonori was instrumental in the negotiations to get ‘confined’ Mugabe to resign.

Others, through the Zimbabwe Council of Churches helped organise a National People’s Convention of civil society organisations to set out a list of demands to the ‘new’ government.

What is evident in all of the above cited actions of the churches, whatever their hue (African, orthodox, Pentecostal) have some sort of stake in our national politics. And they also have both an affinity and proximity to political power.  Especially to those that would yield it.

And this is not an historically new thing in Zimbabwe or the world. What must however be considered is the extent to which the role of the church contributes to further democratisation of our society or comprises it.

And this is a key consideration because our society while it has always been religious via the (still) dominant orthodox churches, it is also keenly pursuing a modern (and popular) Pentecostalism.  And religion tends to affect political perception in one way or the other.

Prior to the coup/military intervention a majority of church leaders (not sure about their followers) actively positioned their churches to be aligned to the ruling establishment.  The possible reasons for this are many but would largely relate to seeking access to state sanctioned privileges (land, avoiding the taxman, or the law).

In the ‘new era’ this is least likely to change. And for historical reasons.  The church and the state have always had a quid pro quo relationship in establishing a mutually beneficial hegemony/dominance.  A rapture with this arrangement occurred during the liberation struggle but was restored with independence.  And has not really been significantly challenged or changed ever since.

The church looks for the state and the state finds the church.   Even in a period of reinvention such as national independence.

 

But the coup/military intervention on behalf of the ruling party startled the church.  It meant a realignment with the new dominant political power over the state.  And true to fashion the church is currying familiar favours from the establishment. A pure case of seeking survival or at least to be left to continue with its oft times lucrative religiosity.

The dilemma with this is that the church will avoid speaking truth to power with very few exceptions.  And in the process lose any claims it may make to political morality on behalf of its followers or in the name of democracy itself.

In the process it negatively impacts a ‘necessary critical national consciousness’. One in which political views and debate is deliberately overwhelmed by superstitious narratives of prophesy and biblical quotes.  All in order to give a veneer of religiosity to a rapacious neo-liberalism/ millennial capitalism where the politically connected (church leaders included) get wealthier at the expense of the religious poor.

Where we have freedom of worship guaranteed in the constitution of Zimbabwe, we must also be aware of the importance of not looking at it in isolation from broader democratic values and principles.  Even in the aftermath of a military intervention/coup. 

 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (tkura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

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