IN the Zimbabwean context, the religious sphere is seemingly dominating the state’s influence over the same.
In a country with a total population of 15 million people, African independent churches (AICs) are Zimbabwe’s largest religious denominations comprising 32% followers of the country’s total population, according to the 2010 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey.
This study is also guided by these demographic statistics and the influence that Johanne Marange Apostolic Church (JMAC) has on both the followers and the adjacent societies which shapes the way they treat women and children.
The abuse of women and children in JMAC is indirectly affecting the Marange community in general through socialisation as the society is influenced by JMAC’s theology, practices, rituals and doctrines.
There are a number of cases where senior government officials and those that are politically connected abuse children with impunity. The other aspect of note is that the state is also an accomplice in that it has not yet fully recognised the rights of women and children.
During political campaigns, children are sexually abused in various political camps. There are a number of cases documented by civil society organisations (CSOs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and private voluntary organisations.
State-sponsored child abuse is seemingly an African problem and examples can be cited within the continent. There were numerous reports to the fact that South Sudanese President Salva Keir Mayardit had child soldiers among his army.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his forces used child soldiers and girls as porters and allegedly as sex slaves in 1994 to get into power.
In Zimbabwe, the case of Munyaradzi Kereke is also a key example where he raped a minor and ended up appealing to political networks to evade justice. Currently most African states are under sanctions for human rights violations and yet the same state is expected to protect and promote the rights and welfare of the same citizens.
The United Nations system is perhaps very weak in that after sanctioning a state for violating citizens’ rights, it does not do anything beyond that to ensure justice is delivered and the perpetrators and all their accomplices are brought to book. Most of the UN sanctions are being ignored by a number of states, and they tend not to really affect the actual perpetrators who are largely the political elite.
In essence, most of the UN sanctions are found to hammer on the very survivors they are meant to protect. These and other factors impede the state from plugging off similar elements in religious sphere when the state is failing in its legal capacity as the protector and promoter of human rights.
Healing is a major factor in the rise of AICs in Zimbabwe. Daneel (1974:186) notes that healing is one of the most influential factors in attracting believers to AICs.
Coxes (1995:254) noted that healing and prophesy are the two major activities found in the church. He further states that healing goes beyond bodily recuperation to providing remedies for unemployment, family disputes, marital discords, and similar cases.
The aspect of healing is a major attraction as it addresses the core issues found in African society in an African way. It provides remedy to the clinical symptoms and the spiritual problems that have led to the manifestation of the disease (ibid, 1995:258).
However, of note to this research is the act of barring congregants from accessing healthcare from clinics and hospitals. The church teaches that only Jesus can heal and yet in the parable of the good Samaritan, the clinic is mentioned positively. In terms of the Public Health Act and the constitution of Zimbabwe, access to health is a fundamental human rights issue.
The theology of JMAC is parallel to the law, hence a violation of human rights. Of note is what Mare (2013:34) observed that there are double standards in JMAC where its leaders are found to access Western medicine privately.
Saviour Kasukuwere and Noah Taguta have lenses, meaning that they visited opticians to have their eyes attended to. While Taguta has lenses, he decreed his followers must take an oath known as chitsidzo, meaning to say an oath where no matter what its members must never seek Western medical services.
The chitsidzo is a vow of remaining resolute to the principles and the teachings of the church. The theology of healing is almost synonymous with all AICs and the miracle healing narrative has become a power tool for converts into the church. Apart from Marange, Wimbo, Mwazha, and Makandiwa, Guti (1999:31) claim to have performed healing miracles which include healing the lame and the blind. Meanwhile, Mwazha claimed to have raised people from the dead.
The doctrine of healing is not only a human rights issue but also a national security one, given that Chiteko (2014:8) revealed that JMAC has an estimated 1.8 million congregants, which translates to 10% of Zimbabwe’s population, who are being barred from accessing medical facilities.
Thus, Zimbabwe is in terms of health failing to account for 10% of its population. Bernard Chiteko (Daily News: 12 January 2014) conducted investigative journalism on hard-pressed JMAC members to hear their views on the teachings of JMAC about health.
The JMAC vendor interviewed by the investigative journalist openly stated that in his church, dogs, chickens, goats and cattle have better chances of survival than humans (ibid:2014:8).
The interviewee went on to state that since the church stated that it heals all diseases, prophets usually transform their homesteads into hospitals, with a wide range of patients admitted into the small huts littering the yard.
In this scenario, the laws governing hospitals and provision of healing services are being ignored, for the ministry of Health and Child Care is also mandated with registering and regulating all facilities offering healthcare.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, the government is failing in its constitutional responsibility to protect and accord citizens their full rights. The study of church-state relations helps to explain the relationship existing between theology and human rights in Zimbabwe.
About the writer: Matthew Mare is a Zimbabwean academic who holds two bachelor’s degrees, five master’s qualifications and a PhD. 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.