Zimbabwe’s Bulawayo is a ghost city. It is working at around 35% of its capacity and industrial areas are the shadow of what they used to be. The invasive Pentecostal gospel has however, found its way in, this time taking over the ghostly industrial buildings. According to The Economist, quoting a report by the Centre for the Study of Global Christianity, only 9% of 100 million Africans was Christian in 1910, in 2015 however, this stands at 55% of an even bigger population of no less than one billion people. Of those Christians, a study carried out by World Values Survey showed that 90% of their number attended church regularly (in Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe). This is therefore not just another group of Christians, this is a devout breed seemingly in it for the long haul. The African church has effectively emerged not only as an influential social player but also a leader of industry.
The African continent’s most enigmatic and extravagant aristocrats are church leaders. In Nigeria, Chris Okotie and Chris Oyakhilome are said to be in a turf war of sorts as each has control over long stretches off Kudirat Abiola Road in Ikeja. The flamboyant pastors are not afraid to flaunt their wealth…a result of their allegiance to their God and their followers are not too far off from the apple tree. The Pentecostal churches with their gospel of prosperity have touched a chord with the generality of the African populace which is in dire need of money and hope. In Nigeria, 110 million of the people live below the poverty line a day and if a prophet comes and reveals the wonders of a bountiful future, this is most likely going to resonate with the generality of the people. The expansion of the churches has therefore been a result of enterprise and unadulterated belief.
Questions have however been raised about the mission of these churches as it seems they are in it for the profits but these are claims the Church leaders passionately refute. Christ Okotie, a former pop-star says his wealth came from his previous career not the church. Emmanuel Makandiwa from Zimbabwe says he is a business-man with investments on the London Stock Exchange. Eubert Angel, another famed prophet from Zimbabwe was featured in Forbes Magazine said, “Angel after close investigation, is one of the thousands of successful entrepreneurs across Africa who are creating million-dollar fortunes. These entrepreneurs do not inherit wealth; they earn it.” Have his spiritual convictions leveraged him above his peers? Forbes could not make that assertion. These new age preachers drive top of the range vehicles and their followers kneel before them. They have become the novus homunae and it is “prophetic” that they are taking over industrial sites. The churches are now Africa’s most vibrant industrial player.
It came as a shock to some when the government of Zimbabwe decided to tax churches. Some claimed the heavens would punish the country for such a reckless move but the reality of the matter is; it had to be done. Churches are selling all manner of merchandise and making huge profits from it. Since these are profit-making enterprises, why should they be exempted from tax? If anything, not taxing them opens the window for tax evasions and church leaders may choose to conceal their businesses under the thin veil of church projects yet they are pocketing untaxed and uncompromised riches. It might be true that taxing tithes and offerings is a little unsettling but surely church business activities making profits should be taxed. African countries are sitting on potentially ridiculously high revenue inflows.
Apart from making serious money, churches have been seen to have political clout too. Just last week, President Mugabe cancelled Forward in Faith Ministries International’s $2.3 million debt for the land it used to build a church university saying they had already paid for it through prayer. In a move that is pure political genius, Forward in Faith’s thousands of followers are now in the ruling party’s corner yet the State was prejudiced of a huge pay-cheque. It is an economically unsound political power-move. Various preachers are known to have said the leader of the country has been ordained by God. Maybe this is to get favours and protection from the corridors of power which in all truth owe the churches for the subtle campaigns. Countries might never see governments crack the whip on churches’ tax evasion tactics because the churches themselves have become political king-makers. However, Kenyan Premier, President Uhuru Kenyatta led the charge when he called for the regulation of churches. “They are thieves and not preachers. We have to consult on how to remove them.”
Some preachers have taken their trade too far, going as far as feeding followers snakes and rats. Rabboni Ministries and End Times Disciples Ministries are the culprits in this regard.
South Africa’s Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CLR) summoned 40 churches and said these were heavily commercialised and were abusing people’s belief systems.
“The Sector needs to be regulated,” CLR chairperson, Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said to BBC.
Image Credit: Nat Geo