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Zimbabwe's clergy shirk charges of complicity in plunder

02 Oct 2023 at 06:32hrs | Views
EMMERSON Dambudzo Mnangagwa was inaugurated last month for a second five-year term as Zimbabwe's president after being declared winner of the controversial Aug. 23 election that regional and international observers say was fraught with irregularities.

During the inauguration ceremony at the 60,000-seat National Sports Stadium, one man stole the show with his wild celebratory dance. His name is Bobby Makaza.

Zimbabweans had never heard of this 59-year-old until this past May when Makaza was captured by the media singing praises for Mnangagwa after curiously benefiting from a presidential pardon.

He had been jailed for 16 years for raping a 10-year-old girl and had served barely four years of the prison term.

His chant of "ED huchi! ED (for Emmerson Dambudzo) is sweet honey!" during the brief interview with reporters through a window of the bus taking him out of Chikurubi Maximum Prison catapulted him to both stardom — especially for Mnangagwa's ZANU–PF party — and notoriety.

The chant started earning Makaza generous gifts from members of Mnangagwa's party that went on during the campaign, with the convicted rapist assuming the role of the party's election poster child.

Protests from women and human rights activists about the insensitivity of having a convicted rapist as the face of a national election campaign fell on deaf ears. President Mnangagwa also stands accused of child rape, allegations he has never responded to.

At the inauguration celebrations, Makaza, who human rights lawyers want back behind bars, rubbed shoulders with other dignitaries in the VIP section. They included a who's who of the country's clergy, such as archbishops and other religious leaders whose conscience is often never disturbed by the excesses of the ruling political elites.

In the run up to the elections, most of these church leaders went under the umbrella of "Pastors for ED," along with #pastors4ED on social media.

At the inauguration, one after the other, these "men of God" took turns to bow before Mnangagwa in a sign of allegiance.

As soon as the event at the stadium was over, these pastors joined other selected dignitaries at the State House for a lavish luncheon given by a host whom they congratulated for "winning" free and fair elections.

Among these dignitaries was a businessman named Uebert Angel (born Uebert Madzanire), Mnangagwa's ambassador-at-large who in March was exposed by Al Jazeera to be the kingpin of a multimillion dollar gold smuggling and money laundering syndicate. President Mnangagwa's name was repeatedly mentioned in these shady dealings.

The other "prophet" there was Emmanuel Makandiwa (born Shingirai Chirume), who recently boasted himself to be more gifted than God.

In the run up to the election, he had "prophesied" a landslide victory for Mnangagwa — even threatening to quit if the prophesy did not come true. In the past, he has been accused of swindling some of his followers through these prophesies.

There was also "prophet" Walter Magaya, leader of the PHD Ministries, who is struggling to shirk off rape charges from congregants at his church. He has also been prosecuted for trying to sell a fake HIV/AIDS drug.

God will grant 15 more years for Mnangagwa vote

Not to be outdone, the various African Apostolic Faith churches — some of which are notorious for practicing child marriages, which are illegal under the country's laws — also jostle to endear themselves to the political elites.

In this year's election, they campaigned under the banner of "Vapostori (Apostolics) For ED" — the different denominations taking turns to host Mnangagwa's campaign rallies at their shrines and their annual gatherings.

Since the beginning of the year, Archbishop Andby Makururu, leader of one of these sects, was openly campaigning for Mnangagwa, even telling his followers that God would reward those who vote for the 81-year old leader and his ZANU-PF party with 15 more years added to their lives.

Archbishop Nehemiah Mutendi, the leader of the Zion Christian Church, one of the largest Pentecostal churches in Africa, also campaigned for Mnangagwa and his party. Ezekiel Guti, the leader of one of ZAOGA, another Pentecostal church with presence in 140 countries, who died in July, was declared a national hero by Mnangagwa. He was also known for hobnobbing with the country's autocratic leaders.

All these prominent church leaders have chosen to adopt a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil and say-no-evil attitude toward the country's misrule, with most of them joining forces with the political elites in the plunder of national resources. In 2020, some of these church leaders were exposed as beneficiaries of the billions of dollars looted from state coffers through loans from the country's central bank, as part of a corrupt farm mechanization scheme that benefited only those with solid political connections.

This has seen the poor citizens saddled with billions of dollars in public debt. Despite being endowed with vast natural resources, Zimbabwe remains poor, with half of the citizens living in extreme poverty, as public resources are being plundered, hospitals are without supplies and equipment, and some children learn in the open or under trees.

This has prompted some to ask if religious leaders have become complicit in misrule, then who will stand with the weak and poor?

Church leaders deny charges

The Rev. Andrew Wutawunashe, chairman of the Zimbabwe Indigenous Interdenominational Council of Churches, denied accusations that some church leaders are complicit in the misrule and plunder that Zimbabwe is suffering.

"As you can see, President Mnangagwa is genuinely popular," Wutawunashe told Religion Unplugged in an interview during the presidential inauguration.

The Rev. Andrew Wutawunashe has denied complicity in the country's misrule.

"As church leaders, we feel that he has a conscience towards the poor — towards the needs of the people — both from what we see of him and what we know about the teachings of the Bible," added Wutawunashe, who is the founder of the Family of God Church. "We are in constant touch with the people and we know what they want. … President Mnangagwa actually has a Christian conscience."

In the past, he had equated Mnangagwa with Joshua from the Bible.

Wutawunashe said the poverty that the people of Zimbabwe are suffering is actually caused by some Western countries that have imposed illegal sanctions on the nation as a way of effecting regime change. Makururu also denied siding with the an oppressive regime, saying that as church leaders, they do not engage in politics but merely endorse whoever God has put in power and whatever government policies there are.

"We don't support any political party but just endorse the leader and the government that God would have given us," Makururu said.

Some church leaders remain critical

However, not all religious leaders have been there to cheer the political elites. Catholic bishops, for example, have always maintained their watchdog role towards the country's successive governments since the days of the colonial settler regime of Ian Smith that had declared unilateral independence from Great Britain in 1965.

Since independence in 1980, the bishops have always called the political leadership to order, including partnering with nongovernmental organizations in investigating genocidal killings that took place in the southern and western parts of the country in the early 1980s. This has made them unpopular with ZANU-PF governments, both under the late Robert Mugabe and now under Mnangagwa.

Human rights groups have accused the ruling ZANU-PF party and its leadership of perpetuating their stranglehold through violence and other gross rights abuses.

Shepherd Mpofu, a Zimbabwean academic who is an associate professor of media and digital humanities at the University of South Africa, told Religion Unplugged that it is important for religious leaders to be chary in their political associations.

"Of course church leaders have a right to political association, but this must not be to the extent that it becomes public and leaves those they lead or admire them to lose faith in their leadership," he said. "ZANU-PF and its policies and the use of violence in ordering society should be frowned upon by any society and leader worth their salt, and associating with such an organizations openly, and yet not calling it into order, negates whatever leadership they provide. It is a politics of material desperation that has largely led religious leaders into associating with despots and tyrants."

Cyril Zenda is a Christian and an African journalist and writer based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Source - Religion Unplugged
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