The scourge of fake prophets in Africa continues to hold sway. The public domain and social media platforms have been awash with pictorial and visual imagery of how these men and women of God capitalise on the hopelessness of their erstwhile followers. In some shocking revelations, these so called prophets sexually abuse their followers while some engage in high profile fraud, staged miracles and moral misdemeanour. Some prophets are infamous for their miraculous efforts that range from resurrecting the dead, deciphering National Identification numbers and miracle money. Others are known for their extravagant lifestyles and the flamboyant fleet of cars they possess.
The belief that Biblical miracles can be replicated has become the basis on which modern ‘Prophets’ base their ministries. While it is a well-established phenomenon that men of God can carry out miraculous works under the influence of the Holy Spirit, it is sometimes the nature of their miracles and the lives they lead that brings them under intense scrutiny. In order to satisfy their over-expectant followers, this modern brand of ‘Prophets’ twist and tweak Scripture to their taste. They use unorthodox means in delivering people from illnesses and conducting their business in general, while enriching themselves in the process
The predicament of fake African prophets making a huge killing out of their followers’ hard-earned money can be best explained by the economic pitfalls that characterise the continent. The endemic of abject poverty often propels members of the public into seeking devotional explanations for their misfortunes. Unlike in the 90’s where the main line denominations such as the Catholic, the Orthodox and the Protestant churches dictated religious pace, the wave of Pentecostalism brought about the notion of prophets. This wave of Pentecostalism can be traced back to the United States of America at a time when the fight for civil liberties was gaining widespread momentum. It is the Pentecost doctrine that brought about the idea of prophets since its doctrine is centred on miracles and glossolalia.
During the American civil liberties era, pastors came up with prophetic sentiments that pointed towards black liberation and the need for black Africans to pin their hopes on God in difficult times such as the racist society that they were living in. Pentecostalism later spread around the universe, presenting competition to readily established denominations due to its concrete emphasis on the gospel of prosperity as opposed to salvation. Further, its origin that associates it with black Africans in America might be the reason for its overwhelming acceptance in Africa. In the wake of dysfunctional economies, massive unemployment and extensive corruption which resultantly hurt ordinary citizens, Africans tend to seek religious panacea and overnight success.
This is however not the outcome for most of the followers that throng crusades and prayer nights hosted by some of these prophets. The opposite usually takes place. In these religious episodes, the followers sub-consciously part with huge sums of money. The immense belief that they have on the promises that the prophet would have imparted upon them often leads them astray. In most instances, these promises do not materialise, but the money would have parted. Religion would therefore have worked as a cash generating apparatus.
The commercialisation of the gospel
The twenty-first century came with it an upsurge in the commercialisation of the gospel. Prominent Malawian born Prophet Shepherd Bushiri was recently on the run over allegations of money laundering and fraud. Marauding prophets in Africa have found a breeding turf in the continent. They have made millions through selling prosperity gospel to the hopeless African mass. Some often demand tithes from their followers in exchange for healing. Impliedly, the prophets get paid for performing a service. In some instances, some collect revenue from consultation fees arising from such formulations like the infamous one-on-one sessions with the ‘man of God’. This then translates into why these men and women of God lead a very wealthy life while most of their followers wallop in poverty.
To this end, prophets in Africa are now notorious for preying on Africans eager for better lives, using them to bankroll their personal lavish lifestyles. In other words, one’s faith gets measured by the amount of donations they make at the prophets’ churches.
Always under spotlight for scandal
One of the most common traits of these modern day prophets are the scandalous lives they lead. Apart from pocketing huge sums of money, some male prophets proceed to abuse their female followers during these one-on-one meetings. Cases of rape, sexual assault and sodomy have also been reported in various African countries implicating these men in robes. In 2020, a Nigerian prophet was arraigned at an Ikeja Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Court for allegedly sodomising two teenage boys. This conduct has been viewed by some as ritual processes that these so-called prophets undertake in order to garner thousands of followers in their churches.
Some prophets are notorious for the manner in which they perform miracles. In January 2014, members of Rabboni Centre Ministries at Tshwane University of Technology were tasked to eat grass by their prophet in order to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit. In one of his crusades, Prophet Penuel Mnguni of End of Times Disciples Ministries in Soshanguve, Tshwane made his church members eat snakes. The prophet claimed that the snakes tasted like chocolate. In Zimbabwe, a self-proclaimed prophet once instructed his congregants to eat human waste claiming it is anointed sewage with a healing effect.
They continue to follow their prophets
Despite the apparent scandals that characterise most modern day prophets in Africa, their followers take none of it. To them, it can only be persecution for one’s belief. The more scandalous these prophets become, the more the followers jostle to their churches. Scholars have repeatedly pointed out that African cosmology does not separate the spiritual from the non-spiritual; therefore, economic, medical, and cultural spheres of reality are open to multiple interpretations. Africans have sought religious solutions for problems that can be best solved through people based public policy frameworks, curbing graft and peaceful political transitions.
In the quest to seek redress at the prophet’s, a lot of mishaps are being recorded. Most African governments including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi are now considering licensing the operations of these churches and taxing their revenue. Such considerations that aim to protect members of the public from the church can only reflect the level of toxicity in today’s churches. Could there be a better time to regulate one’s religious belief in Africa?