(Last Updated on February 24, 2013 by Editor)
ZIMBABWE – Apostolic and other African-initiated churches have vowed to mobilise millions of people to vote for Zanu PF in the forthcoming general elections.
The churches’ political stance comes amid surveys that have indicated that Zanu PF was gaining ground against its political rivals, MDC-T and MDC.
Results of the latest survey released by the Mass Public Opinion Institute last week revealed that elections were likely going to be a closely fought contest with President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party marginally edging Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T.
But analysts and other religious leaders described the initiative to lure independent African churches as doomed.
Zanu PF leaders, among them Mugabe, his deputy Joice Mujuru, Minister of Media, Information and Publicity, Webster Shamu and local government minister, Ignatious Chombo have relentlessly addressed gatherings of Johane Masowe, Johane Marange and other independent African churches in the past months.
They have been promising church members, land and benefits of the indigenisation and economic empowerment programme.
Some of the church leaders among them Noah Taguta Momberume who heads Johane Marange and Paul Mwazha of the hugely followed African Apostolic Church have openly endorsed Mugabe. The MDC-T has however accused Zanu PF of abusing churches.
President of the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ), Bishop Johannes Ndanga said the over 620 churches registered under the umbrella group were busy registering their members as voters.
He said the other church members were being assisted to get national identity documents to ensure that they vote for Zanu PF.
Bishop Ndanga said by March 9 all the churches under the council would “voluntarily” provide figures of how many of their members would have registered as voters.
He said religion could not be separated from politics.
“Just wait and see. We want to show our power by swinging the votes in favour of Zanu PF,” said Ndanga. He claimed that the churches under the ACCZ had over 8 million members, adding all of them were united and loyal to their leaders. “If we decide to swim in a river we all go in at the same time,” he said.
Ndanga said ACCZ was bitter that MDC-T councillors have performed dismally in terms of service delivery and accused them of corruption.
He also accused the MDC-led councils of selling land to churches at commercial value.
The church leader also claimed Tsvangirai has been snubbing them since he became Prime Minister in 2009.
However, analysts and other religious leaders said Zanu PF has tried in the past tried and failed to win the religious vote.
One religious leader, Rev Useni Sibanda said the apostolic churches and other independent African churches were not a homogenous group. He said getting the support of one group’s leader did not translate to winning the support of the others.
“Zimbabweans are an intelligent people who have independent minds,” he said.
Rev Sibanda said for the political parties to win the votes of Christians they needed to have clear policies on issues to do with justice, peace, fairness and the common good.
Gift Mambipiri, coordinator of National Movement of Catholic Students said the 2012 census results showed that Zimbabwe was a highly religious country, with more than 95% of the people belonging to at least a religion.
He however said although 80% were clear that they were Christians, the figures did not matter when it comes to elections.
“Our democracy has not matured to an extent people would consider moral Christian issues as voter clarion calls,” Mambipiri said.
“We still vote with our heads and stomachs, not our bibles. People know the character and history of Zanu PF and they don’t need Church elders to open their eyes. They smile at some political leaders in broad daylight for fear of victimisation, but act otherwise when they are handed the ballot and a pen.”
University of Zimbabwe religious studies lecturer, Professor Ezra Chitando said while addressing a captive audience was important, it was difficult to determine whether accessing such church gatherings would translate to votes.
Chitando who has just completed editing a new book on “Religion and Politics” said what brings people together in churches was not political opinion but a shared religious ideology.
“It is very likely people who share the same religious view may not share the same political ideology,” Chitando said. “My suspicion is that there is no such thing as the religious vote.”
He said factors that were likely to win support of religious members were economic and social policies, as well as the charisma of specific political leaders.
Another respected church leader, Rev Murombedzi Kuchera also said religious leaders have no political influence over their members. “We can only advise our members to vote wisely otherwise our churches have people from different political persuasions,” he said. BY PATRICE MAKOVA – STANDARD