Occasional diary of an African migr

Land of Miracles - Let there be light! (or not)
To my two-year-old son (aka The Boy) this is the natural thing when one flicks the light switch on. And he loves to play with electricity, switching things on and off and on and off until he gets the look from me then he shies away laughing. Caught out, young man! (Perhaps he will grow up to operate a power station).


Here is a boy who enjoys being naughty like any normal child exploring the world and experimenting with the apparatus of this wondrous laboratory naturelle. A tap is for opening and marveling as the water pours out, and the most fun of all can be had the toilet – the flushing sound, waterfall of liquid gushing down into the bowl and the gushing of a refilling cistern. Hmmm, all the things you can do with that, his little mind is simply blown away..

So The Boy is bewildered when he flicks the switches on and the light does not come on; the taps are dry and all the toilet does is to gurgle like an old emphysematous man gasping for air, lungs rasping. We are in Harare, and in the late seventies in our village in faraway Nyanga we used to talk about the capital city with great longing as kumagetsi the place of bright lights and sophistication country bumpkins could only imagine.

To-day in Zimbabwe, when the lights come on and stay long enough to finish cooking, or when water flows out of the taps, it is a small miracle worthy if thanksgiving. And this is how Zimbabweans live their lives, from one little miracle to the next. Lights, food on the table, rains, the commute to work and back, all of these appear to be miracles, at least to those of us visiting from far where we take all of these mundane things as given and guaranteed.

But the greatest miracle of them all is how the country has not disintegrated into open armed conflict or anarchy. Some people think that this is a curse rather than a miracle, for they argue the matter would long have been solved one way or the other had then been open conflict! Most people who say this do this in their air-conditioned homes or bars in Cape Town, London, New York far removed from the reality of war.

Zimbabweans have become more religious as a result of their travails. An irony really; while other people would question the existence of a God who looks on their suffering without interest, Zimbabweans seem to see their troubles as a consequence of their misdemeanours (whatever our collective sins might be).

So to-day the country has a delectable menu of churches available the traditional protestant and catholic churches thrive. The Anglican Church once one of the most progressive religious movements in the country, however, is in the middle of a battle royale in which the Mugabe government is directly involved; renegade bishops are causing problems in Harare and Mashonaland provinces regarding the small matter of sexual orientation.

Question why are we so afraid of gay people? Another question how many gay people do you know? Enough to disrupt a whole church of 3 million people just trying to worship their God? It is trite, really, that an unquantifiable minority (and largely irrelevant to the Zimbabwean Church) has been used as proxy to divide and conquer.

The African churches particularly the Mapostori church (no English translation for this word would do it justice despite its origins being from Apostolic) in all its gazillion branches and sub-branches is the most prolific and most prominent in its visible dominance.

Dotted across almost every open urban space you will see devotees in their white or red or green garments (gemenzi) a gathering of 10 people here, there a group of fifteen or twenty maybe more, over there a woman prophetess praying for a young child, another man raising his staff to the heavens like the picture of prophets of old in the Illustrated Childrens Bible.

And its not just on Sundays when these scenes play themselves out (like in the old days) but now it seems you see them everyday. It is testament (no pun intended) to the lack of economic activity that a quarter to half of the townships are out praying during working hours. With all the talk of black Jews having taken residence in pre-historic Zimbabwe perhaps the Vapostori are an even closer branch to the writers of the Torah.

Then there is the new phenomenon of the pentacostal charismatic churches. Previously they were only a handful either homegrown or American, now they are coming in from Nigeria. No-one does pentacostal and charismatic quite like the Nigerians. With names like Holy Mountain Fire Church, Redeemed Holy Church of God, Holy Spirit Revival Church etc they have colonized buildings in downtown Harare preaching deliverance from the devil and ancestral strongholds and wealth to the poor. The bigger and more prosperous ones dominate the wiztech free-to-air satellite television offering with services beamed from Lagos or Johannesburg. And in Zimbabwe they find fertile ground to plant their churches.

So one can be cynical. But to be sure Zimbabwe is doing a Lazarus it is a country that is being slowly raised from the dead. The problem is that the sisters (in the bible they were Mary and Martha, in our case they are Mugabe and Tsvangirai) are bickering while Lazarus is thirsty and asking for sip of life-giving water. If they dont stop soon, this Lazarus might just die again

Post published in: Opinions

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