Takudzwa Mazwienduna is an informal leader in the Zimbabwean Secular Alliance. Here we talk about his life, work, and views.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was early life like for you, e.g., geography, culture, language, religion or lack thereof, education, and family structure and dynamics?
Takudzwa Mazwienduna: I was born in Mutare; the Zimbabwean city that borders Mozambique, to a Catholic family. I grew up as the only child to David Mazwienduna and Abigail Kamundimu Mazwienduna, thanks to Catholic school, I was just as devout as my mother.
I did my primary education in Mutare and Kwekwe respectively before going to Catholic boarding school at Marist Brothers Nyanga Boys High School. I fell in love with the school library during this period and I developed an appetite for knowledge.
There were pressures from my family to take up a scientific career like my father who was a Chemist, but I loved writing and dreamt of being a journalist. I went on to study Literature, Divinity, and History at Advanced level in High School and this was the first time I read the Bible as a practical book to study leading to my doubts about my faith.
Journalism is not a rewarding profession in Zimbabwe, so my parents persuaded me to do something else other than that after high school. I went on to study Development Studies at Midlands State University and worked for the International Institute for Development Facilitation as an intern.
I got to meet chiefs and rural communities in Zimbabwe during Work Related Learning in the course of this degree and was horrified by the religious witch hunting practices that were common. This lack of morality evident in most religious doctrines led me to question and eventually lose my religion.
Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?
Mazwienduna: I graduated with an honours degree in Development Studies from Midlands State University in 2016. I love reading and learning new ideas and skills however. I have learnt more on my own than I did in my 17 years of formal education.
Jacobsen: What have been the tasks and responsibilities as an executive of the Zimbabwe Secular Alliance?
Mazwienduna: The Zimbabwean Secular Alliance hasn’t been formal as yet but we have done a lot as a community.
We never appointed tasks to each other but we took turns to represent the secular community on radio, in religious discussions and in decision making bodies taking advantage of the various connections and opportunities our members have.
Jacobsen: What are the important social and communal activities of the Zimbabwe Secular Alliance?
Mazwienduna: Some of our members donate blood every year to help reduce the child birth related deaths in rural Zimbabwe. We have also started community libraries and created platforms on social media to raise civic awareness; something that is not very common in Zimbabwe
Jacobsen: What have been important activist efforts in its history? What have been the successes and failures of these efforts?
Mazwienduna: Zimbabwe doesn’t have a long history of secular activism. We are the first to emerge. This might be because our constitution is secular, the government and society however are not and this gave us the need to.
We have managed to increase awareness about Secularism on national radio and we have managed to get one of our own included on the National Censorship Board. Due to our lack of funding however, we got kicked off national radio on the command of the Christians who sponsored the shows.
Secularism is still a far fetched dream in Zimbabwe and no one cares that the constitution protects it, that kind of shows how low civic awareness is and also explains why the Zimbabwean government gets away with so many atrocities.
Jacobsen: In terms of the ways in which the general public views those working for more secularism in Zimbabwe, how are they viewed? How are the secular and the non-religious as a community treated in Zimbabwe?
Mazwienduna: Secularists are automatically viewed as Satanists or Anti Christs. Most Zimbabwean Atheists are still in the closet because they know for a fact that they will be harassed, humiliated or even disowned by their families.
I, for instance, have grown distant from my own family because of my outspoken secularism. I haven’t seen them for 2 years since I’ve been living in South Africa; a more secular community.
Zimbabwean society also doesn’t tolerate LGBTQ rights (gay people are still sent to jail if discovered) and angry mobs will harass any woman they see wearing a short skirt (a very common occurrence). Zimbabwe is exactly like the 21st century version of 17th century Salem.
Jacobsen: Who have been the important activists, writers, speakers, and thinkers in the secular movement and community in Zimbabwean history right into the present?
Mazwienduna: There hasn’t been anyone advocating for secularism in Zimbabwe before our community was formed. While there might be Atheists and Agnostics in Zimbabwe, most of them are still in the closet and awareness is very low when it comes to secular issues.
Jacobsen: As we move further into 2019, what are your hopes and fears for secularism in Zimbabwe?
Mazwienduna: We want to have more media presence and we hope a culture of tolerance will build up and that Zimbabweans respect human diversity.
We remain uncertain of the political climate however, the current government doesn’t respect the rule of law and they have committed gross human rights violations in the past 2 years.
The authoritarian government is least likely to support secular concerns; the only language they understand is war and terror.
Jacobsen: How can people become involved through the donation of time, the addition of membership, links to professional and personal networks, giving monetarily, exposure in interviews or writing articles, and so on?
Mazwienduna: We are registering the Humanist Society of Zimbabwe as an organisation for the first time. Any contribution of any form will be welcome. You can contact us on the Zimbabwean Atheist Facebook page.
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?
Mazwienduna: For secularism to be attainable in most African societies, there is need for civic awareness to be raised in communities so that the rule of law gets backing from the people and become established.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Takudzwa.
Mazwienduna: It is my pleasure Scott. Thank you.
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.
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