LAST Tuesday was no ordinary day for Monalisa Dlodlo of Lower Gweru who travelled all the way to Gafa Stadium in Mtapa suburb in Gweru.
It was different because Dlodlo, like the rest of the swelling crowd at the open grounds, was seeking deliverance at the hands of the charismatic Prophetic Healing and Deliverance (PHD) Ministries leader Walter Magaya.
Word had circulated in Gweru and its surrounding environs that Magaya was visiting the city, triggering an unparalleled interest among, those with illness or afflicted by other life challenges such as unemployment, infertility and poverty.
Dlodlo had high hopes that once Magaya laid his hand on her she would be cured of the incessant headache that has been nagging her for the past three years.
By mid-morning informal traders from the nearby Mtapa, Ascot and Mambo suburbs had already lined the entrance to the open sports arena with an assortment of products for sale. Some were busy cooking sadza on braai stands while others peddled doughnuts, soft drinks, freezits, buns, roasted mealies and fruits, among other food items.
The day was hot and by lunchtime the swelling crowd from as far as Shurugwi, Zvishavane and other places near Gweru was becoming restless.
Even the police who had pitched a tent and were enthusiastic in assisting PHD ushers seemed to be devoid of energy.
People could be seen milling around buying drinks and food to quench the thirst and assuage their gnawing hunger.
Magaya’s arrival was kept a closely guarded secret, but some among the crowd were whispering among the multitude bonded by the need for salvation that the prophet would make his appearance at 2pm.
Despite the PHD ushers being clueless on when their leader would arrive, they continued to marshal people into the venue.
Some PHD members in a tent on the edge of the pitch were busy entertaining people who were purchasing anointment oil, bracelets, stickers, caps, T-shirts and discs, among other PHD paraphernalia.
These things, however, came at a price with oil going for $10, T-shirts $15 while the small items cost between $1 and $5.
Unperturbed by the harsh economic climate, people queued to buy the materials.
They had hope that armed with these items and Magaya’s healing and deliverance message, they would conquer the social, economic and political problems bedevilling them.
By 2pm, the crowd had increased to around 2 000, but still Magaya was nowhere in sight. People, however, did not lose hope. They believed he would unveil himself.
With a heavy PHD security presence, Magaya finally strode to the podium just before 5pm in the evening to be met by screaming and ululation from the crowd.
There were loud cries as people, including the physically handicapped, visually impaired, jobless, those with never-ending marital problems, cervical cancers and the HIV-inflicted jostled to get to the stage in anticipation of the beginning of miracles.
Prophet Magaya, without leading the crowd into praise and worship or preaching, asked the now close to 3 000 people to raise their hands as he made a prayer that barely lasted 10 minutes.
He promised people that he would be back later in the evening after which he was quickly whisked away by his security details. However, Magaya was never to return.
The faithful crowd waited until 8pm when they were asked to leave the stadium by PHD officials who unconvincingly told them to line up and be sprayed with anointing oil. Few did so and left the venue with bewildered faces.
“This is not what I expected,” Dlodlo said at a loss of words.
Another congregant Prosper Zimuto from Ascot suburb said he felt betrayed after waiting for close to 12 hours only to have a glimpse of the prophet for 10 minutes.
Zimuto, who came with his limping uncle who has had walking problems for the past five years, said he felt “defeated by the devil.”
Such were sentiments from the majority who left Gafa Stadium on that day in despair.
They felt disappointed and had their hopes for salvation dashed.
However, for the informal traders it was brisk business on the day as they managed to treble their daily takings.
“I have never made money from selling fruits and soft drinks on a single day like I did today,” explained Gogo Chihera from Mtapa suburb.
Even using toilets at the nearby vocational training centre came at a cost as the security guys manning the gate charged a flat fee of three rands.
Magaya could not be reached for comment last week, but an overseer with the church, Admire Mango explained that the PHD leader had never arranged for healing and deliverance crusade in Gweru.
“This was just a visit by the Yadah TV (PHD television channel) crew to answer to questions by people on the operations of the church by meeting the Gweru cell group,” Mango said.
“Similar visits were made in Kadoma and Kwekwe on the same day and the prophet was supposed to briefly meet the cell groups. It was a surprise when a huge turnout occurred; the wrong message should have been spread.”