It is an indisputable fact that religion has shaped history, and it continues to impact society, politics and economics as this article will discuss. The people of Southern Africa were religious before the arrival of missionaries. The latter established schools and churches that became instrumental in educating a cohort of Africans that became leaders of anti-colonial movements and grooming religious figures such as the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu. These individuals contributed immensely to today's arguably free and democratic society.
Despite notable positive contributions by missionaries, a lot regarding the nature and the role Christianity played during the colonial era remains unclear and subject to contestation. For example, Archbishop Tutu once said, "When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible, and we had the land. They said, ''Let us pray." We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible, and they had the land." The illustrious Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart wrote, “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
The same Christianity through which people received salvation is identified as having precipitated the loss of land, identity, and unity. It is believed that missionaries softened the ground for the colonisation project, or some might say that missionaries were enablers of the colonisation project.
Present day Zimbabwe
There is a cohort of charlatans bringing Christianity into disrepute. They are conspiring with politicians to plunder the little the masses have. The story is as follows.
The socio-economic consequences of bad governance have left people seeking meaning in their ordeals. Controversial prophets colloquially known as Vana Papa have taken advantage of this thirst for meaning and hope amid adversity. They feign concern for people’s welfare in order to draw them close and then siphon them of their few possessions to finance their extravagant lifestyles and other selfish ends. They preach the prosperity gospel which equates Christian faith with material success and blame the individual for their poverty. Conveniently, the gospel prescribes the way to wealth (wealth defined as expensive cars and houses, trips to Dubai, and so forth) which to a great extent involves giving more to the Papa through donations or purchasing branded products such as anointed oils, bracelets to ward off evil spirits, and tickets to exclusive prayer lounges. It averts blame from political figures engaged in corruption and abuse of human rights.
The controversial prophets fraternize with corrupt politicians. I recall a time I visited a megachurch in Ko Bulawayo, and Obert Mpofu, a prominent state looter was a keynote business speaker. Obert Mpofu! In a recent occurrence, Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa proclaimed that President Mnangagwa was doing a great job, which is quite bizarre considering the state of the nation. The President is also no stranger to blasphemy, having once uttered that there exists no better government than his government even in the heavenly realms. What a mockery of God! Not a single man of God publicly censured him for his foul words, but many have unceasingly showered him with baseless praise in order to store up favours. Politicians desire to be seen with and endorsed by prophets and church leaders in order to obtain votes. It is quite a marriage of convenience that we are witnessing.
The whole fiasco in Zimbabwe makes one question the role of the church and its leaders in society. Perhaps we should refer to the Holy Book to assess the role of the church and clergy in society. Biblical patriarchs such as Nehemiah and Jeremiah were known to reproach kings and leaders who were swaying away from the righteous path. Despite the risk to their lives, they exposed injustices perpetrated against God's people.
In recent times, figures such as the Catholic bishop Pius Ncube and Pastor Evan Mawarire have spoken out against injustice and as expected it was at a cost. Such, virtuous Christian leaders are now in short supply, the ones remaining choose to abuse the poor and bow down to the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar.
To be continued...