PAUL Bayethe Damasane has been a man in the public domain for many decades. He has circulated as a school teacher, deliverer of pulsating public poetry, a Christian preacher and linguist of note.
The arts in Zimbabwe cannot be discussed to exhaustion without the mention of Damasane. Damasane has also been caught interestingly experimenting with musical performance. I recall an arts festival at the Bulawayo City Hall where the late Vice-President Simon Muzenda was in attendance. Damasane, on two feet, improvised a song and came up with words to the effect that “uMuzenda ubhejel’ ukufa efuna ukuvusamasiko” (Muzenda would rather die defending traditions) a song that reverberated in the hall until the poet in Muzenda was awakened, the result was an amazing impromptu poetic performance led by Damasane and a dance by then Vice-President, with the whole crowd singing and swaying in near Pentecostal seizure, it was something new.
Besides his training as a sociolinguist elsewhere and at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa, Damasane has been a true wizard when it comes to the history and intricacies of the Ndebele/Zulu language, its phonetics and phonology even. In speech and text, Damasane is one of those figures who use the language with lyrical old fashioned art of the Zulu griots. No one in Zimbabwe has reason to officially brutalise the Ndebele/Zulu language when experts and consultants of the language like Damasane, Phathisa Nyathi and others are still alive. Away from the multiplicity of Damasane’s intellectual and cultural competencies, I seek to focus on his poetic theological reflections that have a striking prophetic streak.
When poetic thinking meets philosophical reasoning the product is pure prophecy. The prophets of nowadays sell prophetic products and healing activities, that is not how prophecy began, it was originally not a good and a service in the market place.
The selling of prophecies and healing events began with the mid-eighteenth century industrial capitalism, where knowledge itself began to be packaged for sale. That is also the time when prophecy as prediction gained currency. Prophets made predictions only as part of their larger work and not as a priori. Most of the famous prophets that we know today are nothing more than what were called the “seers,” the “soothsayers,” the “magicians” and “clairvoyants” in the Bible. Before that there was far more to prophetic work than prediction and wonder-working.
The present scramble for big predictions and spectacular miracles is a product of the market place in this era of high capitalism. Prophets just like the Apostles had a mission of theological work to do besides displaying powers and engaging in spiriticism. The prophetic theology that I describe of Damasane is in the artisanal way in which he interprets, and draws refreshing meanings out of every day scriptures, investing biblical teachings that people have been carrying from the Sunday School with contemporary and challenging meanings, that is the true work of the prophets and the apostles, to dig out new meanings from old messages. The age-old aphorism of all the Abrahamic religions is that God of the old days is still the same today, that theological truism cannot be sustainable if the theologeans, among them the prophets and the apostles do not keep providing new interpretations of the scriptures. A poetic, philosophical brand of Facebook evangelism is what I have noted from Damasane, away from simplistic motivational speaking, tweeting and facebooking that rely in plagiarising TD Jakes, John C Maxwell and Miles Munroe as is prevalent in South Africa today.
Theological Reason as Philosophy
Theology as a province of the discipline of philosophy dwells in the arts and sciences of interpreting and critiquing scriptures.
The claim to fame of theology as a wisdom is that it provides a meeting point between faith, a deep belief in God that does not demand evidence of his existence, and reason — a kind of thinking that relies on proof, evidence and scientificity. Most theologeans, especially those that are believers in God use their skills of interpretation and analysis of scripture to glean hidden wisdoms and concealed truths that lie buried behind proverbs and allegories that make biblical texts. An assumption of the Abrahamic Religions that is, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is that one needs “spiritual eyes” and “spiritual ears” in order to understand scriptures and their gospel. As a result, trained and untrained, most powerful preachers have tended to be deep and nuanced thinkers who deduce and phantom meanings from dense messages of the Bible and the Quran. For that reason, preachers are expected to be inspired readers and teachers because the scriptures themselves are believed to be texts of inspiration, not simple literature.
Besides the miracles he performed and the wonders that surrounded his conception, birth, life and death Jesus the Christ proved himself a formidable theologean and therefore a philosopher. The beatitudes delivered by Jesus on his famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10) are up to today some of the finest gems of philosophy. At the age of 12, after the Passover feast he absconded from the journey back to Nazareth in the city of Galilee, his distraught parents had to journey back to search for the fellow whom they found giving Rabbis a torrid time with deep theological questions, probing and critiquing the law of Moses, preparing for his own mission, he had to distinguish himself from the ordinary in understanding and articulation of scripture, or he was to be unequal to the messianic vocation, there was therefore a Jesus of the mind not just the Jesus of the spirit.
For Paul the famous convert life became even tougher, in the event of his Areopagus Sermon in Athens, (Acts 17:16-34) he was dragged by some Epicurean and Stoic Greek philosophers to a trial cum public lecture. Silas and Simon feared for his life because the Greeks executed foreign preachers of strange religions. As confident and arrogant trained philosophers they began with mockery, “what will this babbler say?” When Paul delved into complex matters of the pagan worship, monotheism and idol worship some philosophers accused him of preaching foreign divinities, a capital offence. As Paul went deeper into nuances of the resurrection, the philosophers retreated with: “We will hear you again,” he acquitted himself well before a hostile and dangerous audience. The importance of arguing the scriptures out and engaging in logical rhetoric to persuade listeners could not be left solely to spiritual inspiration. Similarly, Islam has been a deeply intellectual and philosophical religion; little known is that the flowing academic gown of the present and its imposing cap are artefacts from the tradition of Islamic scholars and interpreters of the Quran.
Damasane on the sex contract
The Abrahamic faiths place special focus on sexual prudence and value virginity like a sacred trophy. Strict emphasis on sexual chastity and preservation of virginity for marriage has been one area that has made the church to be viewed as a dry and boring prison. Most conventional preachers have dwelt on dry warnings such as that those who offend will burn in hell. In one of his telling posts, Damasane treated this matter. Rhetorically Damasane begins “sex is sweet, but . . . have you ever wondered why God carefully positioned a membrane of blood in a lady’s sexual opening?” Drawing on biological detail he continues “it is a tiny membrane that partially or completely covers the opening of the vagina. It is called the “HYMEN”. Why would God, Our Maker put a breakable tissue full of blood at the very door of the sexual opening of the female?” Further, “why is it so carefully placed at that entrance, like a ribbon tied at the entrance of a new house about to be launched?” Using the linguistic licence of the poets Damasane says “without doubt, the HYMEN IS A GATE! It was God (our creator) who set that blood-filled vessel there as a covenant blockage, a sign and a token of a covenant between the bearer and whoever plunges into her opening.” For that reason “before God, the disvirginity or deflowering of a lady is not a casual act of fun.
It is a serious covenant struck and confirmed by the blood shed on that day.” It is “little wonder why sexual intercourse was designed by God to take place only and only after the marriage contract is sealed.” What follows is a narrative by Damasane of how sex is a covenant and a spiritual contract signed in blood, he warns about the exchange of spiritual details between sex partners and how their physical and spiritual destinies get entangled. The capital warning being that: “A broken hymen opens you up to the spirit of the man that broke it; any other spirit whatsoever that may have mingled with that man’s spirit, those who have mingled theirs with his, as well as the spirit of any other man that enters into you thereafter.” After all “the sin of fornication gives demons and occultic people direct access into your God-given destiny. So guys, zip up! Girls, wise up!!”
To create a distance between themselves as special men and women, most evangelists bombard audiences with out of these world spiritual details, not so Damasane, in this one and other messages he begins with the everyday tangible world, the rational world, and then proceeds to the province of the spiritual realm. Damasane’s example is perhaps what contemporary Christianity needs, not the scramble for the bizarre and the grotesque that has led to preachers feeding snakes to congregants and pretending to chase demons with common pesticides.
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from South Africa: firstname.lastname@example.org