THE orthodox churches have a way of honouring their heroes by making them saints. A saint is the highest honour to be accorded an individual ecclesiastically.
Meanwhile, there are many African religious heroes who even fought colonialism and some have done tremendous humanitarian work.
Africa has many Mother Theresas, but it has not devised a term and a method od Africa (Zaoga), Forward In Faith Ministries International worldwide.
The historiography on liberation struggle in Zimbabwe is biased towards political independence.
Zimbabwe experienced four liberation struggles, the first Chimurenga, the religious liberation struggle 1932 to 1962, the third chimurenga popularly known as the second chimurenga and the fourth chimurenga which was on land reform. The same way land was taken back to its rightful owners, religion was taken back to the black majority through the proclamation of the Vatican 11 by the Pope.
It is after this religious independence that, even the orthodox churches began to accept blacks in its bureaucracy, we now have African agents of the gospel like priests, nuns, catechists and pastors.
This religious independence did not come on a silver platter. The founders of African Initiated churches (AICs) faced a lot of persecution from both the colonial government and the orthodox church.
The new orthodox African church began to support liberation movements and conduct colonialism. Thus the AICs cut the ligament which connected the orthodox churches to the colonial regimes.
The orthodox church, especially the Roman Catholic Church, ended up supporting the liberation struggle and turned against the Smith regime because it was domesticated and indigenised through the Vatican 11 proclamation.
Guti is one of the founding fathers who formed African independent churches (AICs) when it was not fashionable to do so. To date, Zaoga is in more than 160 countries. There is no known religious figure who had managed to penetrate more than 160 countries.
The AICs played a key role in influencing Africans to rise and demand for independence. As early as 1932, the AICs were the first to challenge the Western expressions of Christianity.
The AICs leaders were actively involved in dislodging the colonial regime, for example Johanne Masowe leader Shoniwa Masedza, incited African workers on European-owned farms to refuse to work for a white man and influenced them to demand higher wages.
This prompted the Rhodesian authorities to confine AICs, they were ordered that worship had to take place indoors and inside a church building. The AICs resisted the draconian order which was an act of protest against colonialism. Some went further not to read European bible and relied on continuous revelation and in some instances followers were ordered to burn it, for being irrelevant to African needs and aspirations.
The AICs fought a non-violent revolution, a model which was later used by Gandhi’s satyagraha and ahimsa. Gandhi is recognised for the salt march, one of the most successful non-violent protests ever recorded in human history. They taught the masses on mass resistance, stayaways and winning a war without guns.
Religion, like politics, has its own heroes and in the orthodox church they call them saints in recognition of their contribution to the growth of Christianity. Since 1960 when Zaoga was founded, the church broke the Western hegemonic tenets in a number of ways to include localisation of gospel, construction of hospitals and universities.
He has written over 100 books on marriage, faith, counselling among other. He also demonstrated a high level of patriotism when he continued to support liberation struggle in pre- and post-independent Zimbabwe.
Despite Zimbabwe being a secular state, Zaoga and the entire AICs continue to preach peace, harmony and inclusivity. Zaoga is one of the AICs that respect women and children.
The church had not been associated with the archaic theologies that seek to undermine women and children. Guti lived an exemplary family life, for the 100 years he has lived, there are no adverse reports of domestic violence and promiscuity.
Guti joined the religious renaissance in 1960 and 1962 the religious independence was won. Prior to Vatican 11 of 1962, the Western churches had paternalised the missionaries and excluded the Africans in leadership positions.
The AICs also challenged the role that was played by missionaries in the colonisation of Zimbabwe. Their theologies incorporated African values and practices in their expression of the christian faith.
To win their religious argument, they established themselves as protestant movements. The proponents were Samuel Mutendi, Johanne Masowe, Johanne Marange, Paul Mwazha and Mai Chaza who pushed for worshipping the African way. They resisted colonisation through resisting anything that represented it and this included the orthodox churches which worked together to colonise Zimbabwe.
Masowe, for example in 1932, was arrested several times for preaching a gospel that promoted civil disobedience at a time when Europeans were the recognised leaders of the church.
The Rhodesian authorities ordered the prison wardens to persecute him by piercing his fingers with needles until blood dripped. The AICs leaders were put under strict state surveillance as their followers continued to swell.
The national policies such as indigenisation has its roots in the initiatives by AICs who indigenised religion and the religious language. They replaced the white messiahs with the black ones hence the indigenisation and the localisation of the gospel at a time when racialism was at the peak.
They defied the odds and they established churches, for Africa by Africans to serve African interests, even if the socio-political environment was not conducive for that. They drew the attention of the Rhodesian government’s state arms in Mashonaland towns, mines and commercial farms where they were preaching resistance to the colonial government.
Masowe preached against displacement after the Land Apportionment Act hence the AICs became the voice of the voiceless. Their actions triggered political consciousness as a build up to the religious independence whose proponents were the founders of the AICs.
AICs are liberation movements in their own right and were a liberation force. It played a central role in fighting oppression, segregation, people’s sufferings (human security) by encouraging resistance to the colonial government. They broke ranks the Rhodesian government when they mobilised their followers to shun Western hospitals, schools, employment and this is why the Johanne Marange to date dissuade their followers from any association with the Western civilisation and their social amenities.
At the core of their theology was the sense of belonging for an African men. Their push for African renaissance gave birth to political theology where the colonial administration was seen as the barrier to AICs’ goal of African religious pan-Africanism.
The first colonial recognition of women was the Vatican 11 of 1962 which saw the roman catholic church start to recognise women as nuns, catechists among other key positions in the church.
However, Mai Chaza of Guta RaJehova of the AICs was the first woman in the colonial era to break colonial legacy and patriarchy by becoming the first woman to lead and found a church. Their push also gave birth to black theology and, in turn black, feminism.
The first feminism was won by AICs in Africa when they forced the Roman Catholic church to issue the 1962 Vatican 11 which liberalised women, who can now occupy key roles in the mainline and orthodox churches. The religious independence pushed for political independence hence the church leaders were part of the founding members of Zanu, e.g. Rev Ndabaningi Sithole, Rev Abel Muzorewa and later Rev Canaan Banana.
The AICS have led numerous protests against the colonial government. The colonial government responded by banning the AICs. Masowe and Marange began their ministries in 1932 at the height of colonialism and the Africans were feeling the effects of racial discrimination and the Great Depression.
In the 1970s across Africa, the AICs became the beacons of expression Christianity with African lenses. The bible was domesticated hence the AICs theology is theology of indigenisation.
In addition, African ancestors were also elevated to the same positions as saints. Similar to missionary founded churches, the AICs also formed some associations where they cooperated.
The AICs were founded primarily to fight colonial churches that were founded by the colonial structure to advance Western value systems. They pushed for African renaissance and pushed for religious liberation. Their theologies were a protest to Western religious value systems which supported colonisation.
The orthodox churches played a key role in the colonisation of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe won two independences, in 1962 the religious independence was won and in 1980 the political independence.
The Vatican 11 which gave white churches an African face through indigenisation, enculturation and domestication. The Rhodesian government tried in vain to suppress the AICs and subjected them to brutal approaches which were all resisted. It is unfortunate that, the role played by the AICs in both political and religious independence had not been properly recorded and is often overlooked.
This is the ligament that connects Zanu PF to the AICs, the relationship is historical and not political as is the popular belief.
In further recognition of the role that was played by the church to liberate Zimbabwe, then prime minister Robert Mugabe invited them to be collaborators in rebuilding the country after the war.
To date, they are the beacons of peace and they also fosters good governance. These churches continue to be the agents of peace and unity within the country. The Zaoga church had never preached hate speech but had always thrived to the beacon of peace and ubuntu.
The church promotes national values by realigning its theology to the constitution and he has founded Mbuya Dorcus Hospital and the Zimbabwe Ezekiel Guti University to educate the nation. These initiatives accord him national hero status. This will go a long way in acknowledging the role which was played by AICs. In the fruition of time the government may also consider posthumous conferment of the heroic status to the 1932 founders of the religious renaissance.
About the writer: Matthew Mare is a Zimbabwean academic who holds two bachelor’s degrees, five master’s qualifications and a PhD (Systematic Theology). He is also doing another PhD and has 12 executive certificates in different fields. Professionally, he is a civil servant and also board member at the National Aids Council of Zimbabwe. [email protected]