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Book analyses religion, politics in Zim

Title: Prayers & Players: Religion and Politics in Zimbabwe
Editor: Ezra Chitando
Publisher: Sapes Books, Harare (2013) (240 pages)

Jean Kanengoni

THE book is an informative, probing and illuminating analysis of the interplay between religion and politics in Zimbabwe.

Carrying 16 chapters, it is a rich repository of data on a rather under-researched topic in the country. The contributors must be saluted for living up to the balance and fairness expected of academics. The essays are non-partisan, scholarly and critical.

The contributors are clearly familiar with the country’s political intrigues and have done justice to the complex interface between religion and politics.

Although concentrating on the period 2000-2008, most of the trends that they noted have persisted.

The first two essays in the volume focus on theoretical discussions on religion and politics. Employing a historical perspective, Munetsi Ruzivo reviews the concept of civil religion across different historical periods in Zimbabwe.

He demonstrates the abiding value of the concept by showing how the post-colonial state has deployed civil religion to achieve specific goals.

Tarisayi Chimuka builds on this by asking whether religion and politics overlap. He interrogates the challenges that emerge if religion and politics are too close.

The next section offers rich descriptions of how African traditional religions have featured in political processes in Zimbabwe. Tabona Shoko revisits the “Diesel n’anga” saga, showing how pre-existing indigenous beliefs and practices made politicians vulnerable to spectacular supernatural claims. Adopting a middle-of-the-road stance, he seeks to encourage deeper appreciation of the dynamics that were at play.

Nisbert Taringa and Macloud Sipeyiye describe how the fast-track land reform programme had a negative impact on indigenous spirituality. They maintain that the programme instigated a negative attitude towards the environment. Chimuka raises the controversial issue of the role of chiefs in national politics.

The section on Christianity is dense, but diverse. Chitando explores the political implications of a pastoral letter by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference titled God Hears the Cry of the Oppressed.

Lovemore Togarasei describes the responses of Pentecostals to politics, drawing attention to internal variations within the movement. Kudzai Biri focuses on a specific Pentecostal church, Zaoga, and compares political and church leadership styles.

Fortune Sibanda and Richard Maposa describe the role of African Instituted Churches in Zimbabwean politics, while Molly Manyonganise critiques the document The Zimbabwe We Want.

Recognising the popularity of the Bible in Zimbabwe, Masiiwa Gunda and Archieford Mutetwa review its appropriation in political discourses. They show how actors across the political divide have appealed to the Bible to further their agendas.

The last section of the book addresses themes that are equally interesting and pertinent. Tapiwa Mapuranga discusses the gender question in Zimbabwean religion and politics, showing how some actors appear to move seamlessly between the two spaces.

Agness Chiwara focuses on social activism in Islam, describing how a minority religion navigates the explosive political minefield of Zimbabwe. Itai Muwati, Fainos Mangena and Tavengwa Gwekwerere examine the manipulation of religious songs in electoral politics.

Obert Mlambo analyses violence in the late Roman Republic and in Zimbabwe, while Fainos Mangena and Mediel Hove also focus on the theme of violence in the last chapter.

This is a rich and inspiring volume. It restores faith in the role of academics in a polarised society. The contributors employed sober writing styles, covered various political players and religions.

Although it does not cover the Anglican Church saga or other minority religions such as Rastafarianism, Hinduism and Buddhism, for example, it must be saluted for its clarity and breadth.

It is a must-read for academics, religious leaders and their followers, political scientists and activists, lawyers and general public. Although it is often said that one must not judge a book by its cover, this particular book challenges conventional wisdom.

Its cover is creative and impressive; a valuable indicator of the quality of the content inside!

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