By Fatima Bulla
The Zimpraise board took believers for granted when they resolved to charge an entry fee for their International Gospel and Music Festival which was marred by a low turnout last week, observers have said.
The main guest at the festival was American preacher and Potter’s House founder Bishop Thomas Dexter Jakes.
Last Thursday, entrance into the National Sports Stadium was pegged at US$10 for ordinary seating during the remainder of the five-day event.
One had to part with US$30 and US$50 for a ticket to the VIP and VVIP areas respectively.
This position was reversed late on Thursday night but critics are adamant that the fees were one of the major reasons for the low turnout which characterised the remainder of the festival.
Many people took to social media to air their thoughts on the charges.
A professor of religion with the Zimbabwe Open University who majors in the New Testament, Dr Taremeredzwa Bishau, said the Zimpraise organisers, led by chief executive officer Joseph Madziyire, blundered when they slapped a fee to the gospel event.
“People would say what is in it for me? Why should I pay my US$50? In any case, there is technology, it all ends up on the social media so why would I want to spend money on a preaching?
“If you are preaching the gospel, it has to be for free. When they (people) come, then you can appeal for an offering. People can then give offerings, not to charge them. That was a big mistake,” Dr Bishau said.
“The gospel is for free. If you preach the gospel, people will repent and then you appeal to them for a free love offering to pay for the expenses incurred. People will do so freely and you will be surprised that some will even give US$500.
“The moment you begin to charge you lose people in big numbers, you just don’t take them for granted,” Dr Bishau said.
He added that Zimpraise had no strategy for the event. He said they are not institutionalised in their operations.
“Today’s prophets (names given) who charge do so subtly. They tell you if you want to sit next to the pulpit, book in advance, those seats don’t go for free. They tell you getting in is for free but there are special seats.
“Now if you want to see him (prophet) you don’t see him in ordinary rooms, you have to book in the hotel and you pay US$250. But that’s not paying for the services, you are paying for where you are meeting him and it so happens that the meeting place is his lodge,” Dr Bishau highlighted.
The stage had been set for a tantalising festival which saw the opening days being graced by South African gospel sensational couple Ntokozo Mbambo and Nqubeko Mbatha.
Attention then shifted to the 60 000- seater National Sports Stadium where Zimbabwean and presiding leader of Jabula New Life Ministries International, Bishop Tudor Bismark opened the night.
To complete the line-up of the night was United Kingdom-based preacher and founder of Ruach City Church, Bishop John Francis.
Bishop Jakes came in to speak on Friday night and the following day at a business seminar which had initially been pegged to run for four hours but ended up only running for two.
A live DVD recording had been slated for Saturday with Bishop Jakes expected to be present.
However, the Bishop left earlier for another assignment in Botswana. Gospel artiste Pastor Michael Mahendere was also a notable absentee.
That was not all.
Numerous hiccups characterised the event and left the attendees disgruntled.
After being charged US$100 for ordinary seats and US$200 for VIP seats at the breakfast seminar, those who attended received no breakfast during the session.
Some felt shortchanged that the business seminar had run for close to two hours contrary to the hyped 9am to 1pm duration.
In his response to The Sunday Mail Society, Madziyire indicated that breakfast had not been part of the business seminar package and the programme was cut short to accommodate an impromptu meeting at State House.
He also acknowledged that he had been advised not to charge for entrance into the National Sports Stadium but the Zimpraise board had overridden that advice.
Other reasons that might have contributed to the low turnout include the fact that the stadium is not an accessible venue to the masses.
Also, there were competing activities in the city during the same period and there was a laid back approach in advertising the event.
Another issue is the target audience which is now lured to gospel events by the promise of miracles and deliverance.
Disagreeing with this, Dr Bishau said such excuses are merely academic and do not appeal to a believer.
“You have to look at other variables, especially those related to the Zimbabwean context. The very fact that TD Jakes was coming should have been good enough.
“Remember one of these thriving prophetic ministries have one key secretary who is a media person. Don’t underestimate that. He is a media person, he knows exactly how to manoeuvre.
“And I am not surprised that the guys who surround him (prophet) are also in the security sector, they know how to manipulate group dynamics,” he added.
He said Zimpraise also failed to forge alliances with other institutions, which could have been key.
“Remember Dag Heward-Mills, who once hosted his crusades in the country. He said it was inter-denominational and he requested bishops and church leaders in Zimbabwe to support him.
Ghanaian Evangelist Heward-Mills hosted month-long “Healing Jesus Crusades” across the country.
An official who declined to be named claimed that Madziyire and his father had centralised the event around themselves.
“Madziyire Senior, together with other preachers, went to the airport to welcome Bishop Jakes. The same crew also went to the State House. They led from the front during the entire programme while ensuring they were on the limelight with the important guests.
“So they did not forge alliances or make room for other players or denominations to take part in this. It became their thing.”
In 2010, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, then led by Dr Goodwill Shana, organised a successful event when they brought in US televangelist Joyce Meyer and some members of Hillsong.
One of the people who were in that organising team said Zimpraise had taken a casual approach in advertising the event.
“Such kind of individuals need to be hyped in the media because there are greater benefits that can be realised for the nation. Ensuring the media played a major role in that event (Joyce Meyer event) was a factor in its success. I think they should have done more in using the media in preparation for the festival,” they said on condition of anonymity. The Sunday Mail