Secular activism and awakening in Zimbabwe
By Leo Igwe
People sleep for some time but they may not sleep forever. The grip of an ideology, religious or secular, that holds a society down may one day loosen. The mental chains unshackle some day and freedom is regained. It has happened before and will happen again. It is a wind of change and hope, a wave of promise and rebirth. That wave of transformation is simmering across Zimbabwe.
The economic crunch may be biting the people hard. But it has not stopped them from thinking and reasoning. Economic difficulties have not stopped Zimbabweans from asking pertinent questions. Peddlers of otherworldly and supernatural ideologies may be having a field day mining the misery and desperation in the land. However, amidst the looming cloud of despair lies a silver lining, the emerging secularism.
This is a secular awakening that promises hope and emancipation. A wind of change that draws attention to the abuse and exploitation by merchants of superstition and irrationalism. Some secular activists are championing this cause of progress and liberation and they are beginning to speak out.
I was fortunate to speak to one of the activists a while ago and he highlighted some of the challenges facing a secular Zimbabwe. One of them, he noted, was witchcraft. :
“Witchcraft is a problem, especially in rural Zimbabwe! We have stories about witchcraft in newspapers almost every day!”. Of course, this problem is not peculiar to Zimbabwe. The main issue is that there is hardly a critical perspective to the media reports on witchcraft.
The newspapers report cases of witchcraft as if they are facts and not as products of fear and imagination which they are. The media outlets present witchcraft stories without balance and thereby reinforce these mistaken notions. So there is a need for a media angle to secular activism in Zimbabwe to ensure that reports of witchcraft and other paranormal cases are presented in a reasonable and responsible manner.
My Zimbabwean secular activist linked the pervasive belief in witchcraft to the Bible:
“Almost the whole population believes in witchcraft. Why? Because if the Bible mentions witchcraft then it’s supposedly true, not to mention various eyewitness accounts and “legitimate” publications by the media”
Surely, belief in witchcraft pre-dates the Bible and instead of blaming the Bible, we should focus on those who read and interpret the Bible. Those who use what is written in the text to make sense of their problems should be blamed. They should be held responsible and accountable.
My secular activist rightly agreed: “And with this new school of prophets coming in, and other radical Christian denominations, the church has become a platform for witch hunts!”
Yes, it is the case in Zimbabwe and in other African countries because those who manage these Christian churches use the idiom of witchcraft to create the impression of understanding the cause of people’s problems. The secular activist listed some churches in Zimbabwe that are involved in this business:
“Notable denominations that are notorious for this phenomenon are PHD ministries under Walter Magaya, the Zion church, almost all African Apostolic sects such as John Marange and Paul Mwazha”.
He identified another issue that was linked to the churches in Zimbabwe:
“Another problem that is associated with these African Apostolic sects is child marriages. Girls are married off to church members at the tender age of 12 because the Bible says reproduce and populate the world!”
But increase and multiple, is it at the age of 12?
It appears that the government in Zimbabwe is not doing enough to address the problem, or it might have been overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge:
“This is a common phenomenon and the government once again turns a blind eye. The John Masowe sect that is notorious for child marriages once had a clash with the police and they overpowered law enforcement officers!”
Well, the rise of secular activism is the answer to this ugly development. It may be what the government of Zimbabwe needs to enforce the rule of law and bring these churches to book. Secular activists plan to lobby and pressure the government to uphold the law and fulfill their obligations to the citizens.
Ideally, church members who practice child marriage should not have overpowered law enforcement officers. Law enforcement agents should have ‘overpowered’ such criminals, arrested them, and brought them to justice in a secularly awakened Zimbabwe.