Prosper Mutandadzi is a Member of the freethought community and the budding humanist community in Zimbabwe, and an author and filmmaker. Here we talk about his life, work, and views.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is family background, e.g., geography, culture, language, and religion or lack thereof?
Prosper Mutandadzi: I grew up in a Catholic Family and Catholic Environment. I am the second born in a family of five.
My father was a headmaster at a secondary school. But I started doubting religion when he was Deputy Headmaster at Assisi Secondary School around 1977. I was still young, having been born in 1971.
At the mission, a friendly white priest was replaced by a black one. This is when even at that tender age I started asking questions about religion.
The white priest had allowed us to eat the peaches and guavas at the trees inside the mission.
But the replacement, the black one, did not only stop us; he stoned us! Throwing stones at 5-or-6-year-olds made me question how a representative of god could be that cruel.
But being African, naturally, traditional religion has equal importance as much as the adopted Christian religions. So, at functions like marriage, death, etc., the two often come into conflict and, naturally, I witnessed the conflicts growing up.
Parenting became an issue at St. Alberts Catholic mission. My father headed the school. School kids were forced to attend. I, thus, was forced to because it would be contradictory for my father to force boarding kids without forcing me (a day scholar).
The incident I cited of stoning. Plus, at St. Albert’s, I saw many priests and nuns getting into relationships (sexual) with each other or the community. Most of them were also very cruel and did not practice what they preached.
I had also started reading novels a lot, especially investigative novels like the Hitchcock ones, the Hardy Boys, and even the Sherlock Holmes books (despite the author being religious). This gave me a questioning mind at a tender age.
So around 11 years, I was no longer religious, but was still being forced to attend church. I did not know about atheism. I did not know of any grown-up who was, so it was like a lone battle. I had no one to confide with.
I speak Shona and am of the Chovanhu (Bantu culture).
In grade 5, I and a friend wanted to avoid a teacher who was very cruel who wanted to teach us. The head, a nun would have none of that and, in fact, gave us an even worse cruel teacher just to get us fixed.
I must, however, point out that not all nuns were very cruel.
In 1978, Assisi school was closed at night by freedom fighters who burnt it. We became refugees at the nearby city then called Enkeldorn, (now Chivhu). We were housed at a Catholic church.
There were mosquito’s there biting us. My older brother tried to kill some in the presence of a nun.
The nun flatly refused. She remarked that the mosquitos were god’s creation and, therefore, should not be killed.
I was surprised. So, god wanted mosquitoes to suck on us? The nun was great, but it also left me with many questions.
Let me take an hour break then address the rest. I must visit someone in the hospital.
Jacobsen: How were parenting style and early school for you?
Mutandadzi: To their credit, my parents only forced us to church so that other students would not complain. After we left the mission, they never forced us to church anymore. In fact, I realized that my father was somewhat agnostic after we left the mission. But they also did not want to follow the traditional religion which most people did.
This resulted in them conflicting with many relatives. Most people in our culture believe any illness and death is caused by someone and spirit mediums or traditional doctors should be consulted. But my parents would have none of that.
Jacobsen: What have been important educational attainments for you?
Mutandadzi: I am not very keen on education. I have, however, a BA in English and Communication, another degree in Adult Education, and an MBA.
I hoped to perdue a doctorate one day, but as I grew older, seeing the most educated people in our community lacking a questioning mind. I became disillusioned. I no longer valued school after that.
Jacobsen: As you’ve been in professional life, what have you noticed as barriers to interpersonal life while at work in a largely religious workplace in terms of coworkers’ religiosity?
Mutandadzi: You are usually the easiest target if you are the only one without religion. A lot of people do not want to associate with you at your workplace. You are bullied. You are called names and the popular ones being Satanist and Illuminati. (Apparently, people here believe these groups are real and exist. If you are an atheist, you become an outcast and easily earn the password Satanist or Illuminati even at your workplace.)
You naturally get forced to join in prayer meetings (which most people believe in) or traditional things (mostly at family functions though. If say a relative is sick, a traditional healer may be consulted, and you are forced to know to at least you are accused of wanting that relative to die).
You are considered an unwanted pimple if nonreligious. In fact, some job adverts can be as segregatory with wordings like a Christian person wanted. Or it’s a Christian environment.
Most religious co-workers will not be that friendly with you and you are regarded as an unthinking person who at the earliest opportunity can lose the job if there is a need to remove some employees.
Even relationships (love affairs), you have many people refusing to have an affair with you if you declare that you are not religious. You must pretend that you are.
Jacobsen: What are some of the social and political, and professional, benefits to being religious in Zimbabwe?
Mutandadzi: Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans are highly religious. You get more respect, friends, love, and trust if you are religious (this has made our political leaders highly religious as well just to get the vote); I, thus, doubt an atheist can be voted for if he or she is open about his or her affiliation (non-)religious wise.
As I am writing this, I am in a heated argument with my relatives whom I am telling I want to donate my body to science when I die, but they are refusing. They are saying it’s against our culture (read: our religion), but this is what I want. Yet, all relatives, because of some religious affiliations, do not see that as something that should be allowed.
Jacobsen: If we examine different issues faced by men and women in Zimbabwe, in religious settings, how are the same? How are they different?
Mutandadzi: Most religions are anti-women in Zimbabwe. Yet, ironically the biggest followers are women. This is both in traditional religion, and in Christianity and Islam.
In fact, pointing out how unfair these religions treat women, ironically, gets one many enemies from the same women.
There are few women who can lead traditional ceremonies or Christian groupings, for starters, but most women in Zimbabwe do not find that amiss.
There are apostolic sects that make women get married as young as 11 years and also allow polygamous marriages and giving examples of biblical patriarchs who were also polygamists.
Jacobsen: Have there been particularly egregious scandals involving religious leaders and others?
Mutandadzi: There have been issues of rape, misappropriation of funds, corruption, and allegations of murder among Zimbabwe’s religious leaders.
As we speak, one of the millionaire religious leaders has a case in the courts on raping several of his congregation members. Another was arrested around 2013 for a similar crime and is still in jail. Another in 2015.
Some congregations have also alleged some women were killed to be silenced. There are also cases of people who used their money after being lied to that it would multiply several times if they gave the pastors, but it did not. In fact, they got nothing in return.
Jacobsen: What did the secular learn from those public events?
Mutandadzi: The nonbelievers are very few and already knew of such possibilities. The religious, however, are quick to jump into the arms of the next pastor (choosing pastors is like a fashion show. There are a new trendy pastor people follow six months or so. And that keeps changing).
So instead of seeing that they are being fooled most are the ‘see no evil hear no evil and talk no evil’ type. If they don’t defend their accused pastor with a passion, they will simply hop in with the next trendy pastor, and the mad circle continues, forever!
Jacobsen: What would be a major victory for the freethought community in Zimbabwe?
Mutandadzi: Getting a foothold in the media would be a great accomplishment.
Jacobsen: How could it get done?
Mutandadzi: I am a writer and completed a sayings book on atheism last year (“He Said, She Said”), which, unfortunately, did not do so well. I am also in the process of writing another one called The Biblie. The main problem. Here it’s difficult to get our books on Amazon, for instance, so they hardly sell internationally.
I am, however, also a filmmaker. Because of a lack of filming equipment, I am concentrating on cartoons and starting this week will be releasing a cartoon series on YouTube entitled: “The Priests Dilemma.” This is to popularise atheism here and elsewhere.
It would have been easier, though, with our own TV station (that is difficult in Zim) or filming equipment, so that we give finished products to our national broadcaster like the religious do.
This would see us gaining ground from the religious. Around 1999, there was a programmer on our TV that pitted the Jews against the Christians, which was popular with many people because of the debates.
If such a programmer was revived but with atheists as some of the participants, I am sure we will get mileage. It would be a major step in the right direction.
Jacobsen: Any recommended authors or speakers?
Mutandadzi: I have not met an author who writes on atheism in Zimbabwe or Africa as yet. I am trying to be one myself pioneering that.
Jacobsen: Any recommended organizations?
Mutandadzi: In Zimbabwe, there are none that I know of.
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts in conclusion
Mutandadzi: The Humanist Community in Zimbabwe just needs a small opening, and they will be a force to reckon with. I know a lot of people who are willing to give humanists a chance, but do not have many details about it. So finding a way of highlighting our issues to the public will go a long way.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Prosper.
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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Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.