I have never understood what we know as the African Traditional Religion (ATR). I just know it involves spirit mediums, rituals, the brewing and spilling of beer and several other superstitious and dubious activities. One of my grandmothers is a spirit medium. I am not really sure what it entails, but I know it involves getting into trances and speaking in alien voices; snuff snorting and a lot of grunting. I also know it involves the worshipping/honouring of the dead and buried; those we know as ancestors. By default, not desire, I know quite a lot about Christianity. This religion has been shoved down our throats so forcefully that try as one might, you cannot avoid it. We have been taught that Christianity is civilised, dignified, appropriate, applaudable and ideal. Being a Christian in Southern Africa is respectable. Nothing screams “I’m good!” louder than a woman carrying a Bible as she briskly struts to church one beautiful Sunday morning after another.
Environment By Thandekile Moyo
I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church. No, that’s a lie. Most of my extended family are Catholics, I’m supposed to be one too, but well… I even have a handsome brother who is a Roman Catholic priest and a gorgeous sister who is a Catholic nun. Christianity, like the ATR, involves grunting, trances and attacks by a certain spirit they call the Holy Spirit, if you are successful enough in its pursuit. Although, Instead of speaking in unknown voices, Christians speak in unknown languages (tongues) when their spirits enter them. Christians also fervently worship ancestors such as Mary and her carpenter son, Jesus. There is no snorting of stuff though in Christianity, just the burning of incense, the occasional spraying of insecticides on the flock and most recently the drinking of antiseptics and anointed sewage water.
The similarities in these two religions fascinate me, but not more than they frighten me. The fundamentals are the same, both preach love for one another, they advocate for respect of one’s parents and they both place their hope in the dead, who supposedly rose again and visit us once in a while in the spirit. Both these religions have Gods who will fight tooth and nail for the salvation and freedom of their followers.
In the earlier centuries, the pope at the time blessed the slave trade declaring that taking Negroes from Africa was good business. On ports in Zanzibar, they built their churches just above the slave holding cells. They drowned the moans and groans of black men, women and children chained together with feverish prayers and hymns.
The British landed in Africa in the 17th century and wormed their way into our lands using missionaries and Christianity as a front. Leaders of different churches like the Methodist and Dutch churches and Roman Catholic priests spread the gospel across Africa by day and plotted mass murders of Africans with the soldiers by night.
In Zimbabwe, a spirit called Murenga instructed his people to fight the British who had invaded the land and were terrorising indigenous dwellers. Murenga led the first and second Chimurenga wars (named after him). We lost the first and he instructed us to fight a second one which we won, leading us to attain independence in 1980. Ironically, to celebrate our Independence, we invited a Roman Catholic priest to bless our celebrations and we held a mass to the Christian God in thanksgiving and celebration.
According to the Bible, the God of Israel is an extremely jealous God! He is also not very tolerant. He turned the poor wife of His most faithful servant Lot into a pillar of salt merely for looking back at the burning Sodom and Gommorah. He violently flooded the entire world and drowned people and all other living things to death, save for Noah and a chosen few, just because!
Now imagine our God, the God of Africa, was just as jealous. How much wrath do you think he could unleash on a nation he led to victory and saved from the hands of missionaries, only for that nation to turn their backs on him and bow down to the God of their assailants, the very day they attained their independence? Africans shock me. If I were their God, I would turn them all into pillars of salt and wash them away with rain or I would burn up the whole continent and start afresh!
Let us assume for once, that there is indeed a God of Zimbabwe. For argument’s sake, let us imagine that our ancestral spirits are not evil as alleged by Christians, but are good spirits who love us and protect us from our enemies. Are we doing them justice by being prayer warriors to Yahwe, a God who is clear and unapologetic about having a chosen people and being the God of Israel? Do you not think that maybe our country has been cursed by a jealous and angry God who tears his flesh and weeps as he watches us prostitute ourselves to foreign Gods?
If it is the Gods who give rain, prosperity, peace, love and happiness to their people, what hope is there for a continent that has forsaken her God? Is it naivety or stupidity that makes us fail to realise that schools for Africans were named after “saints” while schools for the British were named after their heroes? We have Prince Edward and Alan Wilson High Schools in Zimbabwe vs St Ignatius in Chipinge and St Francis of Assisi in Chivhu. While they were busy celebrating, their war efforts their priests were busy turning us into Christians to pacify us. Decades after independence, the names remain while our own heroes lie uncelebrated.
They renamed Mosi oa Tunya the Victoria Falls after Queen Victoria and we see nothing wrong with that because we are Christians. We forgive and forget.
We are not confrontational. We are pacified! The Great Zimbabwe, our greatest achievement of all time, was trivialised and renamed the Zimbabwe Ruins and we smile and say we are Christians. We tell each other “thou shalt not fight” and we turn the other cheek! They erected statues of their heroes
throughout the continent and because we have been pacified with the gospel, we are fine with it. Because we are Christians we happily nurse the grave of Cecil John Rhodes, the biggest terrorist ever to land on our shores, on one of the most sacred lands of our ancestors. The grave of Mzilikazi is just a short distance away, but lies abandoned while we religiously polish the bronze on CJR’s tombstone and that of his “partner” Jameson. Imagine burying Hitler in Jerusalem. Or Osama bin Laden in Central park, New York!
Until we recognise our own heroes, until we recognise our own God and respect our ancestors and spirits, we shall forever remain the cursed continent. We shall always be colonies of Europe and we will remain at their mercy as we look up to them for donations, knowledge, technology, development and loans.
We need to find ourselves and pick up from where we left off before our systems, beliefs and way of life was disrupted. In our quest to be good Christians and Muslims, let us not forget that we are Africans and our continent needs our full attention. I totally believe in freedom of worship, my fear is that most people do not know that they are free to worship any god, even the God of Africa. It’s ok to be a Christian, it’s okay to be a Muslim, it’s ok to be an atheist but you need to ask yourself who is benefiting from you being what you have chosen to be. Is it you? Is it your pastor? Your colonisers? Is it your government?
After having had a merry Christmas celebrating the “birth” of Jesus of Nazareth, I pray you can now take a moment to look inside yourself and ask: What if Africa has her own God?