Aspects of Pentecostal Christianity in Zimbabwe

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Editor(s): 
Lovemore Togarasei
  • London, England: 
    Palgrave Macmillan
    , July
     2018.
     234 pages.
     $99.99.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9783319785646.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Emanating in the 1970s and gaining momentum in the 1980s in particular, the Pentecostal revolution in sub Saharan Africa has now transcended what some scholars long termed the “Pentecostalization” of mainline Christianity into the public sphere at large. 

In Aspects of Pentecostal Christianity in Zimbabwe, editor Lovemore Togarasei brings together a cohort of astute Zimbabwean scholars of religion to analyze the growth and impact of Pentecostalism. Contributing scholars, some Pentecostal academics themselves, are agreed that “[i]n Zimbabwe today, there is no doubt that Pentecostalism is the most dynamic form of Christianity” (40), making it possible to not only “talk about the Pentecostalisation [sp] of Zimbabwean Christianity” (46), and “the Pentecostalisation [sp] of society” (8), but also Pentecostalism’s own culture brought into conversation with existing religio-cultural traditions. While many of the essays in this volume analyze the contemporary force of Pentecostal Christianity in Zimbabwe, this text also fills a lacuna in the literature on Pentecostalism in Southern Africa, long after David Maxwell’s influential study of Ezekiel Guti’s Zimbabwe Assemblies of God Africa (ZAOGA) in African Gifts of the Spirit: Pentecostalism & the Rise of Zimbabwean Transnational Religious Movement (Ohio University Press, 2007).

Essays are grouped into four parts, after the initial introduction by Togarasei. Part 1 consists of four essays that address the History of Zimbabwean Pentecostalism. Four essays in part 2 address doctrinal issues; part 3, also consisting of four essays, focuses on the movements of socio-political relevance, and finally the three essays in part 4 are dedicated to theoretical and methodological issues raised by the proliferation of Pentecostal Christianity in Zimbabwe. 

Ezra Chitando’s essay, “The Religions of Zimbabwe in Their Plurality,” begins part 1 but it does more than focus on Pentecostalism or its history. It is more of an appraisal of the diverse religions clamoring for space in a saturated religious environment, thus placing the analysis of contemporary Zimbabwean Pentecostalism in the broader context. As Chitando rightly observes, “Pentecostalism borrows from, is informed by, is in competition with and influences other religious traditions” (16). Togarasei’s essay “History and Character of Pentecostal Christianity” does more justice to the history of the movement in Zimbabwe by tracing both indigenous movements and the introduction of “American Type Pentecostalism” (39) into Zimbabwe. Quite importantly, Togarasei places the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) as the “mother” of Zimbabwean Pentecostalism, founded in 1915, “through the preaching of Zacharias Manamela, a convert of the AFM of South Africa” (35). Of significance to students of the history of Zimbabwean Pentecostalism is the distinction Togarasei makes between some of the direct offshoots of AFM and ZAOGA. The first schisms from the AFM gave birth to what has variously been termed as African Initiated, Independent, or Indigenous churches (AICs), such as Mugodhi Apostolic Church, the Apostolic Faith Mission, among others. As one of Zimbabwe’s most prominent Pentecostal Churches, its success is due to its style of mission—which begins from the urban to the rural areas, some method of formal training for its pastors among other novel practices introduced by its founder, Guti. 

These two opening essays are complemented by Masiiwa Ragies and Vengeyi Obvious’s analysis of an enduring debate, on whether AICs—widely referred to in Zimbabwe as “Mapositori and MaZioni”—are Pentecostal. This is followed by Joachim Kwaramba’s quite brief analysis of “Pentecostalism and Charismatism in the Roman Catholic Church’s Archdiocese of Harare in Zimbabwe” (63-70). To return to Gunda and Obvious, the AICs “can be regarded, with some qualification, as Pentecostal” given that they share with other Pentecostal churches a “belief in the centrality of the Holy Spirit and the gifts presumed to be emanating from the Spirit in the life of believers” (49). 

In part 2, while Francis Machingura discusses speaking in tongues as defining characteristics of Zimbabwean Pentecostalism, Kudzai Biri, Gunda, and Togararsei all focus on aspects of prosperity teaching. Biri, specifically, focuses on the teachings of “Health and wealth” as espoused by ZAOGA, and, in particular, the teachings of Guti on talents which emphasizes hard work rather than miracles of prosperity. Gunda and Togarasei discuss how prosperity preachers use the Old Testament as a source book. The strength of their essays lies in the inner perspective they provide. Here we are provided a Pentecostalist hermeneutics of prosperity. There is, however, a common trope in Zimbabwean prosperity preaching. While prosperity preaching continues to stoke debates among Zimbabwean Pentecostals themselves, for scholars such as Gunda, the “Gospel of Prosperity has been packaged as the answer to the aspirations of wealth and health” (122). Yet, in the Zimbabwean context, it is characterized by economic hardship and the search for an “abundant life, a life of enjoying the blessings and not sacrificing much” (122). 

In part 3, Tapiwa Praise Mapuranga’s essay addresses another important topic—of women empowerment in Pentecostalism. Titled “Pastors, Preachers and Wives: A Critical Reflection on the Role of Pentecostalism in Women Empowerment in Zimbabwe,” Mapuranga is of the conviction that while some women have become influential leaders in Zimbabwean Pentecostalism, the “Pentecostal approach to gender is ambivalent” (148). Tinoonga Shanduka and Togarasei discuss another Health and Well-being in Zimbabwe’s Pentecostal Churches, and Togaraseii and Biri revisit the place of money in the theology of Pentecostal churches. While these may seem repetitive, considering previous essays (73, 111, 125), it reflects the contentious debates surrounding the so-called gospel of prosperity in African Pentecostalism. Mervis Zungura and Eve Zvichanzi Nyemba’s survey on how “Pentecostal Churches and Zimbabwean Politics” ends the essays in this section. 

Part 4 addresses theoretical and methodological issues. Of the three essays in this section, Nisbert Taringa and Macloud Sipeyiye discuss the interreligious implications of Pentecostal attitudes towards Shona traditional religious beliefs, while Togarasei focuses on how Pentecostals interpret the Bible. It is Musa Dube’s “The Pentecostal Kairos: Methodological and Theoretical Implications,” that specifically discusses implications of studying and teaching religion in the “Pentecostal Kairos” (233). Dube proposes interdisciplinary and “collaborative research projects, to make contributions to method and theories of studying religion in the Pentecostal era” (230). 

Aspects of Pentecostal Christianity in Zimbabwe is an important book in many respects—foremost is its appraisal of contemporary interactions between religion and society in Zimbabwe. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Aidan (Kwame) Ahaligah is Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science at the University of Leeds.

Date of Review: 
March 12, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Lovemore Togarasei is Professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Botswana. He has also served as a Professor Extraordinare at the North West University, Mafikeng Campus, South Africa, Guest Professor at Zimbabwe Open University and Visiting Professor, University of South Africa. Togarasei has also taken visiting research fellowships at University of Cambridge (Britain), Edinburgh University (Scotland) University of Leiden (Netherlands). His research interests lie in the areas of the use the Bible (especially among Pentecostal churches) in addressing socio-political and economic issues such as HIV and AIDS, politics, masculinity and gender, poverty, etc.

Keywords: 

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