LIKE the Biblical Moses who descended from Mount Sinai with two tablets of stones with the 10 Commandments, President Robert Mugabe was completely clad in white robes and held the trademark apostolic sect stuff when he attended the Johane Marange annual passover feast at the church’s Mafararikwa shrine in Manicaland last weekend.
Mugabe was the perfect picture of a deity, barefooted and surrounded by a train of “prophets”, taking slow steps and chanting “Rugare! (peace)”, which was acknowledged by tens of thousands of church members.
“Tambirai, tambirai, tambiraiwo zvauya nemutumwa (receive what the messenger has brought from God)”, they sang as they welcomed Mugabe. To them a leader is a messenger of God, chosen to lead the people as Moses was anointed to take the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt to the promised land of Canaan.
“He is Gabriel and it is not by accident that he was given such a name and we welcome him here every year to open our annual passover feast,” said one senior church official who manned the rivulet which Mugabe crossed as he descended to the shrine.
However, unlike Moses who came down from Mount Sinai with the 10 Commandments, Mugabe had gone to the shrine to meet the worshippers with nothing but a plea for their votes in the general elections on July 31.
In his address to church members, Mugabe called on Zimbabweans to reject political parties which believe that black people are not capable of prospering without the assistance of Westerners. Mugabe also castigated foreign ideologies being pushed by the MDC formations.
“You heard when the American President Barrack Obama came to Africa saying that we must allow homosexuality in Africa. Surely, how can that happen allowing a man and a man to marry? Where will the offspring come from,” asked Mugabe.
Mugabe could not continue to pretend to be a deity shouting “peace, peace, peace”.
The political animal inside betrayed him and the true to form Mugabe exploded as he bellowed “Pamberi neZanu PF (Forward with Zanu PF)” instead of “Rugare!”.
Mugabe’s Marange excursion was instructive. As election fever grips Zimbabwe, parties across the political divide are jockeying for the support of local churches, especially those that draw thousands of followers to their worship services. Most local churches have been infiltrated by politicians who have turned places of worship into political rallies as the struggle for the religious vote takes centre stage.
The church, seen as an important constituency in the power matrix, is now invaded and used as political theatre to woo voters, shunning rallies which are increasingly becoming stage-managed and tiresome.
Political parties are particularly battling to entice the United Family International Church led by Emmanuel Makandiwa who draws up to 60 000 worshipers to his Sunday services.
For politicians, these numbers are a jackpot if harnessed. Mugabe and senior Zanu PF leaders have been trying hard to endear themselves to churches.
The battle for the church vote intensified in 2010 after MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai was forced to cancel his scheduled visit to the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) Mbungo Shrine in Defe, Gokwe, after state security agents reportedly threatened and intimidated the church with unspecified action.
In 2011 Vice-President Joice Mujuru visited Mafararikwa for the church’s ceremony where she addressed more than 300 000 people. Like Mugabe, Mujuru was promised more than a million votes.
Most politicians have now mastered the art of lacing their statements with Biblical quotes to appeal to multitudes of churchgoers attending different houses of worship.
After his address, Mugabe was whisked away without meeting hundreds of his supporters who had been barred from entering the shrine because “it was a church gathering and those wearing party regalia were not welcome”.