Most Zimbabweans are Christians. Statistics estimate that 74.8% identify as Protestant (including Apostolic – 37.5%, Pentecostal – 21.8% or other Protestant denominations – 15.5%), 7.3% identify as Roman Catholic and 5.3% identify with another denomination of Christianity.1 Approximately 2.1% of Zimbabweans identify with another faith, such as traditional beliefs or Islam, and 10.5% do not identify with any faith. However, these estimates may understate the number of people practising traditional religions or philosophies in Zimbabwe.
Christianity in Zimbabwe
Christianity is the most dominant faith in Zimbabwe, followed by roughly 87.4% of the population.2 It was introduced to the Zimbabwean people by British missionaries as early as the 14th century. Today, it has become a powerful cultural force. Christian values relating to the family and marriage have modified traditional practices, for example, encouraging smaller nuclear families and reducing the practice of .
There has been a recent increase in Evangelical worship towards the Apostolic and Pentecostal churches. Two very large and publicly visible groups are the Vapostori and Zion Christian Church. Vapostori is an amalgamation of traditional religion with Christianity. Its worshippers often gather outdoors in white robes. The Zion Christian Church also fuses African traditions with Christian values. Its followers often wear a metal star badge with a dark green cloth background on top of their everyday clothes.
Traditional Religion in Zimbabwe
Both Shona and Ndebele traditions recognise an ever-present creator that oversees all living beings. The Shona god is known as ‘Mwari’ whilst the Ndebele god is called ‘uMlimu’. There is a widespread belief that the spirits of ancestors (vadzimu in Shona or amadlozi in Ndebele) and deceased chiefs (mhondoro) continue to exist in the community influencing and affecting life. They are believed to care for their descendants and share their experience, though the living eye cannot see them. Communication with these ancestral spirits is usually achieved through mediums, ‘nyanga’ (witch doctors) and powerful members of the community. People may seek guidance and search for solutions to problems related to health, harvest and drought in this way. It is also believed that one can communicate with Mwari or uMlimu through these ancestors/spirit elders. Many events in life are understood to occur because of the spirit world; some people may believe that spiteful spirits are the cause of bad luck, illness or death. They may even call upon these spirits for punishment or vengeance.