2018 elections: Race for the Christian vote

A picture of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s special advisor Christopher Mutsvangwa and his wife, Monica, kneeling before a young-looking man at what appears to be a prophet’s sanctuary recently did rounds on social media.


In the image, Mutsvangwa’s spouse donned a scarf similar to one that has become Mnangagwa’s signature clothing item, in an ostensible sign that politics has entered the mystic dimension.

On July 30, less than a week from now, the nation goes to the polls and most political contenders are intensifying their battle for the Christian vote, in not only cunning but crooked ways.

Never has Christianity been this convenient for politicians who are going overboard not to only seek spiritual intervention, but also identify with people of faith in pursuit of potential votes.

Over 80% of Zimbabwe’s population is believed to be Christian, with a significant number among them registered voters.
Men and women vying for political office are desperate to convince the Christian community that they have their best interests at heart, even if their track records are not as inspiring.

Leading the antics are, interestingly, election frontrunners Zanu PF and MDC Alliance presidential candidates Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa, respectively. The two have crafted catchy slogans such as “the voice of the people is the voice of God” in Mnangagwa’s case and Chamisa’s “#Godisinit” catch phrase during their whirlwind campaigns in the length and breadth of the country.

However, not to be outdone are aspiring novices who insist to be God-sent dark horses with themandate to save the anguished children of Zimbabwe.

“They (politicians) are abusing the word of God by applying all tricks for personal gain and it’s not allowed in the word of God so as ministers of the word, we do not condone it,” says Zimbabwe Christian Ministers’ Association president Christopher Choto.

In essence, “politics has no relation to morals” as the father of modern politics and ancient Italian diplomat, Niccolo Machiavelli, put it.

For some, the attempt to mix faith with politics has brazenly backfired, resulting in public blasphemy, but that’s non-deterrent to adamant office seekers.

As the “holy war” rages on, some members of the MDC Alliance have likened Chamisa to the biblical Joshua who led the Israelites into the Promised Land while over the weekend Zanu PF chairperson Oppah Muchinguri referred to Mnangagwa as Aaron, ready to usher the nation into the Land of Milk and Honey.

“This country cannot be stopped because it belongs to God, Aaron has come to take us to Canaan and has started doing things, unlike others who are lying and making empty promises,” said Muchinguri, also insinuating that the opposition was responsible for the Bulawayo bombing incident.

But Choto insists that leaders should not sow seeds of division in their political sermons, but rather use public platforms to convert more believers if they are genuine.

“We (church ministers) discourage the church from using the word or name of God in politics to give an advantage to a particular politician or campaigning using it,” he said.

Chamisa’s followers argue that their candidate is an ordained pastor in order to justify his hermeneutic showcase but on the other hand, Mnangagwa is a self-proclaimed Christian who nowadays punctuates most of his speeches with a “hallelujah” slogan.

Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) secretary-general Kenneth Mtata says there is nothing amiss when politicians use biblical jargon to lure Christians, although the latter should be attentive to political substance beyond the religious grandstanding.

“Christians should remain vigilant because the fact that one has used Christian language in their political campaigns does not mean their ideas are any superior (and) it does not mean that if one quotes from the Bible or Christian beliefs, that they have become superior politically,” said Mtata.

While the general expectation is that religious leaders ought to maintain neutral ground in the fierce political contestations, the urge to pick sides has overcome many men of the cloth.

“One can pray for a person, but if the Lord has rejected that person, nothing can change. We have prayed in Zimbabwe for 38 years, but nothing has happened,” Spread the Gospel Christian Ministry founder, Frank Mhlanga, said as he sought to justify his bid for the Bulawayo Central parliamentary seat under the People’s Rainbow Coalition ticket.

Mhlanga told our sister paper, Southern Eye, that he has not forsaken his calling saying he threw his hat into the ring as a response to the country’s leadership crisis that is traceable to corrupt governance.

“I am still a pastor, an evangelist by calling, not only in spiritual matters. This earth is run by politics. We cannot run away from it. People are asking why they are being led by people who are corrupt. I have come to their answer,” he said.

Mhlanga is one of the few who have dived head-long into the political arena while others of the same ilk have chosen to influence politics in a subtle but enormous way, especially through prophecies that predict who the next president is likely to be.

Ironically, there is no consensus in the so-called prophetic world as diverging foresights have emerged from all angles.

“Since there is high probability that one of the two popular political candidates is likely to win, one does not need to be a prophet to suggest who is going to win. You can just throw a coin into the air and speculate that one or the other will win. I actually find the whole exercise not helpful at all,” said Mtata.

Choto agreed, adding that the nation should not be fooled as it is open season for fake prophets.

“Even if the predictions turnout to be true, it does not necessarily mean they are true prophets, they do it for the sake of popularity because I do not see a reason why they would want to do it at such a critical moment.”

Both religious leaders insist that although believers should participate in national processes like voting, they must facilitate reconciliation and peace among the different political players in cases of conflict.

It would appear that the way to most Zimbabweans’ hearts is through religion as the majority of citizens subscribe to the idea that they are in a Christian nation, although there is no constitutional backing to it.

With Mnangagwa offering political sermons at campaign rallies, Chamisa, his main contender, even prays at his rallies.

One can, therefore, hardly disagree that religion is deeply etched in local politics now more than ever.

The only hope for the impoverished majority is that beyond politicking and mundane biblical roleplaying, a true saviour should emerge to change the dire socio-economic realities they endure as each day passes by.

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