The opposition has accused Zanu PF of politicising religion, in order to dull people’s participation in progressive politics by influencing their political choices.
This brainwashing method, says the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), is evident in a viral video, where a bishop in the Johane the Fifth of Africa International Church is shown urging his followers to vote for President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the upcoming national elections so that they can live longer lives.
In his quest to regain political power, President Mnangagwa has roped in several religious groupings including the apostolic sect which has a massive following.
Some church leaders have even formed Pastors for ED, an initiative that supports Mnangagwa’s presidency.
CCC interim Bulawayo Provincial Spokesperson, Swithern Chirowodza said it was clear that religion is being used to brainwash congregants for partisan political ends.
“The cultist sermon by the Johanne Fifth of Africa International Church brings to life the moribund writing of mid-19th century philosopher, Karl Marx, who wrote that religion is ‘the opiate of the masses,’” he said.
“Cornell University in New York postulates that abusing religion has the effect of ‘disconnecting disadvantaged people from the here and now, and dulling their engagement in progressive politics.’”
Chirowodza said religion still has a powerful influence, especially among the vulnerable.
“Rather than making people less political, religion shapes people’s political ideas, suppressing important group differences and progressive political positions. In the Johanne Fifth of Africa International Church context, it is clear that religion is being used to brainwash congregants for partisan political ends,” he said.
A political analyst, Iphithule Maphosa, pointed out that religion has a strong influence and does shape people’s political ideas, therefore it is not surprising that the ruling party will try to politicise religion in order to gain support from churches and their communities.
“People in socially disadvantaged groups, including women, unemployed, even low-income earners often believe what they are told by their church leaders. This is because religion provides disadvantaged groups with resources that compensate for lack of social status,” he said.
Maphosa said if it were not for their greater religiosity, people would actually be significantly more assertive and challenge certain belief systems of what they are exposed to.
“Overally, religion does have a particularly strong impact on people’s politics,” he stressed.
In 2019, Bishop Nehemiah Mutendi, patron of the Indigenous Zimbabwe Interdenominational Council of Churches said they would resist moves to bring a foreign mediator to solve Zimbabwean challenges in reference to when the opposition called for an international mediator to convene talks.
Mutendi, Bishop of the Zion Christian Church, also said POLAD is the only feasible platform for national dialogue where all political leaders must be involved in, describing those that have shunned it such as the lost sheep.
This infuriated the opposition, who claimed that the church should remain neutral and advocate for justice on behalf of those oppressed by the state rather than condoning it.
According to Chirowodza, churches must follow the example provided by the 12 disciples in the Bible, who spoke the truth regardless of the circumstances.