BEWILDERED by their ever-deepening impoverishment in what was once a thriving economy, Zimbabweans are flocking to churches every Sunday and midweek days, seeking Godly intervention to sustain their lives.
The religious takeover in Zimbabwe is best described by Karl Marx, a 19th century German philosopher, economist, communist, sociologist, journalist and revolutionary socialist, who in one of his philosophical essays describes religion as the opium of the oppressed.
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people,” wrote Marx.
Thus according to Marx when thousands flock to the churches, they are seeking nothing but a temporary delirium and an escape route from their daily problems.
While there are many Christians going to church to seek salvation and worship God, in Zimbabwe, many others are going to church hoping for a miracle or to be delivered from their poverty afflicted lives.
It is no wonder that churches, which preach prosperity gospel by promising to deliver people from evil spirits hindering their personal advancement, as well as miracles, have become very popular in the country.
Whereas in the past, Sundays would be reserved for leisure, family events and sports, especially football where thousands would fill stadiums to watch their favourite football teams, these days a significant number of Zimbabweans find themselves at churches, especially those centred on prosperity.
Churches are mushrooming everyday with West African-style evangelism booming, complete with charismatic preachers, live bands, and the faithful falling to the floor and speaking in tongues.
Material possession and miracles seem to be the catch word at the churches, a message which augurs well with hard-pressed Zimbabweans.
As numbers swell, churches have lived up to the expectation as charismatic preachers are inventing messages that bring hope and instant results to the majority of the people.
“Come receive your healing. Attend the crusade and learn how to survive in a harsh economic environment,” reads one poster advertising a revival meeting in Harare hosted by Prophet Passion.
Popular evangelist Emmanuel Makandiwa’s United Family Interdenominational (UFI) Church, one of the largest pentecostal churches in Zimbabwe has struck a code with Zimbabweans with its popular judgement nights which draw tens of thousands of followers in the giant National Sports stadium every year.
With T-shirts, vehicles and posters emblazoned “Your enemy must die: A night when Power meets Power,” judgements nights attract followers from all over Zimbabwe and visitors from neighbouring countries. On judgement night Makandiwa’s followers destroy their enemies which include “poverty, sickness, disease and barrenness.”
Most preachers of the prosperity gospel are flashy in line with the message they deliver.
Preachers have become symbols of prosperity as they show off their riches to the “troubled souls.”
Spirit Embassy leader Uebert Angel recently stirred debate over his flashy lifestyle, which he ostentatiously splashes on social media, including a fleet of cars, a private jet and family holidays.
Known for his flamboyance, Angel hogged the limelight with his miracle money crusades where he claimed to make money miraculously appear in people’s pockets and wallets.
In 2014, Angel arrived for a Crossover night to mark the beginning of the year in a helicopter at the City Sports Centre in Harare to lead his thousands of followers into the New Year. He told them that 2014 would be a year of riches. And they believed him.
He was quoted saying: “When they look at you, let class speak to them. They will see you by the car you shall park, by the house you shall live in. Broke? What do you mean by being broke? When I lay my hands on you, I don’t want miracle money to happen to you; I want miracle millions. You are going to move into another realm.”
Zimbabwe is yet to see the millionaires.
While the majority of people are seeking refuge in the church, the preachers are also making a killing from the “offerings and tithes” which are brought to church.
“Every Sunday close to 40 000 congregates gather and give their offerings and tithes after every sermon,” said one of the UFI members.
“Besides offerings and tithes, the congregates also buy anointed water, T-shirts, wrist bands, stickers even anointed candles which were sold at the New Year’s Eve.”
Another prophet caused a stir last year when he sold anointed pens and condoms to congregates, raising moral values of the church.
Former Finance minister and People’s Democratic Party president Tendai Biti said Zimbabweans have reached a point where they have lost hope in the current leadership. “People have lost hope and they resort to churches. That is what we call fatalism because they expect God to intervene. It is a sign of hopelessness and yes they need a miracle,” he said.
But with the economy expected to further slowdown this year, churches are expected to remain a source of hope for millions of Zimbabweans.