Alton Mungani is the Co-Founder, Editor, & Curator of Zimbabwean Atheists. This educational series will explore non-belief in Zimbabwe. Here we talk about the dominance of Protestantism in Zimbabwe, decolonization, and the comical examples of religion gone awry.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is the dominance of Protestantism in politics and cultural life in Zimbabwe?
Alton Narcissity Mungani: Protestantism has hybridized and evolved into the very cause of strife in Zimbabwe. Percentage-wise, it would be difficult to pin down, but more than 70% of the Zimbabwean population is religious, and of that percentage, 60% are Protestant, and it is increasing. In the political sphere, politicians are at the forefront of claiming divine inspiration and monopolising their deity.
We find politicians spewing such rhetoric as “the voice of the people is the voice of god”; clearly disregarding that, among those very ‘people’ are a growing population who are disenfranchised by this obsession with religion. As Zimbabwe is a politically charged country, the message of any political leader will almost inextricably be the message of their followers.
Even within the current political zeitgeist in the country, the main opposition leader is even a ‘pastor’. That does not build much confidence in the electorate, unless the electorate themselves are sheeple that are easily manipulated (and that is the case for the majority).
Culturally, Protestantism has sunk its metaphorical teeth deep into our culture. As it were, Zimbabwe was a cultural smorgasbord, before imperial religion was introduced.
There were numerous groups with just as numerous cultural beliefs and practices, yet still managed to coexist under the same African sun.
With colonialism came religion, specifically Christianity, which the many different groups were either forced, bribed or cajoled into adhering to. Such quotings as The Beatitudes served to alter the very culture of Zimbabweans.
Where they would say “blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of god” (or something to that general effect), they made the meaning literal to the Zimbabweans, and became the basis for their exploitation of resources.
That is just one example of how Protestantism disrupted the culture of Zimbabwe.
Jacobsen: What role will decolonization play in the dismantling of fundamentalist religion in Zimbabwe?
Mungani: The very basis of fundamentalist religion in Zimbabwe is rooted in colonization; where, as mentioned above, the Western imperialists introduced fundamentalist religion to us.
While there were already existent religious customs, beliefs and practices in Zimbabwe, these never escalated towards the fanatical, and were more of a personal understanding and recognition of one’s environment and one’s place in the whole “machine of the universe”.
Every human being had a role to play, was a worthwhile cog in the wheel of nature. Colonization then introduced a “super”-natural aspect to all of this, discarding the pre-existing customs and condemning them as evil.
Even after Zimbabwe’s independence from colonial rule, decolonisation was not yet a possibility. This was because, while Zimbabwe fought and won against colonial rule, the country started its journey as and independent country by following the model of the colonial power.
Our leaders would put on the airs of the British, dress like the British, dine like the British, and even build their parliament after the British. To this day, the bicameral parliament in Zimbabwe still holds a procession led by the Sergeant-at-Arms (dressed like the Black Rod of the British House of Commons), who holds a golden mace which has to be present before any debates may commence.
None of what I have described above resembles anything practised by any precolonial group, tribe or nation in the whole of Africa. While at that, the Speaker of Parliament will then commence the business of the day with a prayer to the Christian god. This in itself reeks of fundamentalist religion, which imposes upon people and demands no resistance.
Decolonization will, for one, restore the pride in ourselves as a free-standing people who do not need someone to come and tell us to throw away what we have always done in favour of the foreign.
It will also destroy the virus of fundamentalist religion, which is nothing short of divisive, imperialistic and capitalist.
Jacobsen: What are some comical examples of religious gone awry in Zimbabwe?
Mungani: Most recently, a self-styled ‘prophet’, Walter Magaya got into trouble with the law. This was because he claimed to have worked with some Indian scientists to formulate the cures for HIV/AIDS and Cancer.
The product was named “Aguma”, and was introduced by Magaya to his congregants at one Sunday service, claiming to remove all traces of HIV or Cancer in a week.
Magaya had not consulted with the Medical regulatory authorities of the country; his ‘miracle medicine’ had never been tested for safety; basically, a lot of rules were flouted.
Now, for a person who leads thousands in his church countrywide, I personally think it was rather foolhardy of him to just go ahead and introduce dubious medication, especially in a country with rampant social media accessibility (ergo: word travels fast).
By the end of the next day, Magaya was under national scrutiny. It was found that his miracle drug was nothing more than “snake oil” and he was fined hard by the law.
While this was comical, it was also worrying, because there were some of Magaya’s followers who actually stopped taking their prescribed medications, because of this ‘miracle cure’…
Most recently, (as recent as this last weekend), I read a story of a group of people who tried to re-enact the botched “resurrection” job by South Africa based Nigerian charismatic, Pastor Alph Lukau and his “Lazarus-esque” co-conspirator, Elliot. (The interwebs are brimming with this story.)
Anyway, this last weekend, a child had passed away, and as the family and friends were getting ready to inter the body, a group of “apostolics” showed up, waxing poetic about a divine revelation that the dead child was, in fact, not dead. Attempts to “resurrect” the child were, of course, futile.
Again, while this was hilarious, it is also terrifying that there are people to this day who are spewing their vitriol that the apostolics were right. Except they weren’t, were they? lol
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Alton.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.
Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.