By Sij Ncube
HARARE August 21, 2015 – RELIGION is the opium of the masses, German economist Karl Max, is famously quoted as having said about 170 years ago.
Various interpretations have been presented with most scholars arguing that Max intimated that religion is used by oppressors to make people feel better about the distress they experience due to being poor and exploited.
Max’s quote resonates with Zimbabweans as an increasing number of weary citizens flock to churches due to the comatose economy as it gets increasingly clear President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF administration appears clueless in addressing the economic meltdown.
Critics point out the harsh economic conditions have seen a proliferation of false-prophets and other brief-case churches that are taking advantage of the suffering citizens who are turning to God in droves seeking for salvation.
But reports have also been awash some of the so-called men of God are fraudsters bent on making quick bucks taking advantage of the masses with the most prosperous pastors raking in more than $200 000 every Sunday in tithes.
Others cruise in state-of-the-art vehicles courtesy of church members. For instance the founder of Christ Embassy Church Uebert Angel was sucked in an allegedly fraudulent acquisition of a $300 000 Bentley Continental sedan while self-anointed prophet Walter Magaya has been in the news after his wife’s state-of-the-art vehicle was fraudulently cleared.
In the case of Angel, Ndabazinenge Shava — the complainant in the matter – told the court in February this year that Angel called him a year after acquiring the said motor vehicle and advised him to ‘‘seed’’ the Bentley after being promised he would get it back thrice fold after eight months.
“After eight months, I started contacting Angel but he became evasive,” said Shava.
While the courts have absorbed Angel of any wrong-doing, it is the value of the car which had tongues wagging amid poverty and penury.
And some of the men of God have had no qualms in splashing several thousands of dollars on politicians as in the latest case involving Magaya who on July 26 out-bided everyone to pay $50 000 for a picture-book of Mugabe’s wife, Grace, during an occasion to celebrate her 50th birthday.
Magaya’s benevolence appears not to know any boundaries. On August 20, he donated R1, 2 million in hand cash to the government to bankroll the construction of sewerage system at Chitungwiza Hospital.
He has on several times bankrolled the country’s national teams, paying them training allowances as well as winning bonuses.
A few months ago he personally hired a bus for the national team to travel to Malawi to fulfil a fixture after the Zimbabwe Football Association pleaded bankruptcy.
Not to be out done has been another celebrated self-styled prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa who drives in conveys of latest model vehicles completely with bodyguards. Apart from wearing flashy shirts, suits and shoes his generosity is well known within his inner circle. A few years ago he built a full-house for a chief in his village.
On Friday Makandiwa, who is building a multi-million dollar church in Chitungwiza, caused the cancellation of an MDC Renewal congress in Harare after he booked the venue for his Delivery Night sermon where more than 10 000 worshippers are expected.
Questions abound what draws the masses to these churches when it is abundantly clear the church leaders are living large while the masses continuing wallowing in abject poverty. Is religion so of a drug, as put by Max opium of the people?
Critics are adamant the “prophets” are playing on the naivety and vulnerability of citizens seeking divine intervention at a time Zimbabwe’s economy is at its knees.
Thabani Moyo, a social and political commentator, says the prosperity gospel is a great cause of concerns when Zimbabweans should be finding a lasting political solution to their suffering.
“But that’s what happens when people become prisoners of hope; they fall for anything and chase after an imaginary magical golden handshake. Some of these mushrooming churches are without any form of accountability structures and whatever the founder says becomes the accounting principle and in the process blares the line between God’s work and personal trappings of money,” said Moyo.
He added that citizens should not feel pity to people who ‘self-surrender’ property to the so-called man of God, saying they should be solely responsible for the naivety.
Rashweat Mukundu, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Democratic Institute, said false prophets and the love for riches has been a dangerous combination for the country.
“Instead of working hard people now want easy money and instead of reading the Bible on their own people want “spirits” to interpret it for them. The false prophets know the peoples desperation and have devised an intelligent yet devious way of getting rich at the expense of the desperate,” said Mukundu.