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Bennetta Jules-Rosette
At the Threshold of the Millennium : Prophetic Movements and
Independent Churches in Central and Southern Africa / Au seuil
du millenium : mouvements prophétiques et Églises
indépendantes en Afrique centrale et méridionale
In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 99, 1997. pp. 153-167.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Jules-Rosette Bennetta. At the Threshold of the Millennium : Prophetic Movements and Independent Churches in Central and
Southern Africa / Au seuil du millenium : mouvements prophétiques et Églises indépendantes en Afrique centrale et
méridionale. In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 99, 1997. pp. 153-167.
doi : 10.3406/assr.1997.1137
Muchos movimientos proféticos e iglesias independientes que nacierón en los años 1930 y 1940 en
Africa central y meridional han pasado de una fase carismática a una fase más institutionalizada.
Grupos como los Zionistas, la Iglesia Apostólica Africana, la Iglesia Kimbanguista y otros han
desempeñado un papel importante en los movimientos de liberación y los nuevos gobiernos. Es
imposible separar las creencias teológicas y las contribuciones políticas de estas iglesias de las
prácticas sociales y rituales actuales. En efecto, las iglesias han sido actores en la sociedad durante los
últimos veinte años. Han establecido nuevos símbolos y una cultura popular y política en la región. Han
combinado nuevos tipos de conducta y principios de autoridad moral para sus miembros. Este artículo
presenta desarollos en las iglesias proféticas y independientes y los situa en un contexto
regional y cultural más amplio en Africa.
Many of the prophetic movements and independent Churches that started in the 1930s and 1940s in the
central and southern African regions have now moved from a charismatic to a more institutionalized
phase. Groups such as the Zionists, the African Apostolic Church, the Kimbanguist Church, and others
have played significant roles in African liberation movements and new governments. It is impossible to
separate the theological tenets and political contributions of these Churches from their ongoing social
and ritual practices. In fact, the last twenty years have demonstrated that the Churches have taken an
active societal role in shaping new symbols, popular culture, and political culture in the region. They
have also devised new forms of leadership and standards of moral authority for their members. This
paper offers an overview of new developments in prophetic and independent Churches and places them
in a larger regional and cultural context in Africa.
De nombreux mouvements prophétiques et Eglises indépendantes qui débutèrent dans les années
trente et quarante dans les régions centrales et sud africaines sont passés de nos jours d'une phase
charismatique à une phase plus institutionnalisée. Des groupes tels que les Zionistes, l'Eglise
Apostolique Africaine, l'Eglise Kimbanguiste et autres ont joué un rôle important dans les mouvements
de libération africaine et les nouveaux gouvernements. Il est impossible de séparer les croyances
théologiques et les contributions politiques de ces églises de leurs pratiques sociales et rituelles
actuelles. En effet, les vingt dernières années ont démontré que les Eglises ont participé activement
dans la société façonnant de nouveaux symboles et une culture populaire et politique dans la région.
Elles ont aussi combiné de nouvelles formes de conduite et des principes d'autorité morale pour leurs
membres. Cet article offre une perspective des nouveaux développements parmi les Eglises
prophétiques et indépendantes et les situe dans un contexte régional et culturel africain plus large.Arch de Sc soc des Rel. 1997 99 juillet-septembre 153-167
At the dawn of the millennium prophetic movements and inde
pendent Churches are more important than ever They are central players in
the reconfiguration of African politics and public discourse From South Africa
to Zaire the voices of the Churches resonate as moral and political clarion
call for the masses New members flock to these groups in spite of repressive
moves by some African regimes to throttle the Churches during the 1970s
and 1980s In Zaire for example removal of legal status from all
independent Churches except Kimbanguism in 1971 began battle with the
Churches that has lasted over two decades Malawi Zambia and Kenya
have at various times outlawed millenarian and utopian sects in the interest
of political stability During the 1990s attempts at democratization across the
African continent have highlighted religious rights and called into question
repressive government actions toward the Churches In this new political and
cultural climate the role of independent across the continent needs
serious scholarly review No longer movements of colonial protest the
Churches are now part of multifaceted postcolonial political and cultural
Thousands of new religious movements exist in sub-Saharan Africa To
gether they claim more than 32 million adherents Barrett 1982 782 and
Ordinance 71/012 of December 31 1971 consolidated all Protestant churches into
single organization the glise du Christ au Zaïre The government also officially recognized
the Catholic church the Greek Orthodox church and the Kimbanguist church EJCSK Over
700 independent churches were denied civil status by the ordinance ASCH 1983 pp 304-307
ELLIOT and DYMALLY 1990 10 LESLIE 1993 pp 74-76 Government relations with the
Catholic church were strained and were finally challenged by council of Catholic priests in
1990 SOUDAN 1990 pp 18-25)
791 Their appeal is based on their calculated permeability to custom their
indigenous cultural frameworks and their expanded leadership hierarchies
The heyday of the new movements occurred during the late 1960s and the
early 1970s when over 100000 new members year joined independent
Churches Daneel 1987 45 Some discrepancies exist in projections about
movement growth David Barrett 1968 pp 70-71 estimated that totaled approximately 10 per cent of the Christian population in
Africa during the late 1960s John Mbiti and G.C Oosthuizen contend that
these groups now constitute between 20 and 25 per cent of Christian
population Daneel 1987 pp 44-45 Some statistics show decline in Church
membership during the late 1970s and early 1980s due to government repres
sion secularization and increased social opportunities for the urban popula
tion Recent sources for South Africa suggest renewed growth of independent
Churches during the 1990s Keller 1994 pp 38-40 There is some debate
however about whether membership in independent Churches is declining
elsewhere on the African continent In spite of these fluctuating statistics and
contrasting opinions it is undeniable that have been
vital cultural and political force across Africa
In terms of doctrinal base organizational structure and geographic dis
tribution three types of new religious movements may be designated in
digenous or independent Churches separatist Churches and
neotraditional movements These groups have taken variety of local and
regional forms They blend elements of traditional religion with the influence
of historical and modern Churches Many of these groups began as reactions
against the political and social domination of colonialism and the psycholo
gical frustration that it created but their goals have changed during the pos
tcolonial era
Independent Churches arose in areas where there had been intensive
contact with Christian missionary efforts Prophetic and revitalistic move
ments however flourished in Africa prior to European contact Many contem
porary movements originated as early as the 1880s The period from 1914 to
1930 marked second peak in the emergence of central and southern African
new religions third growth period may be demarcated from the early 1930s
to the 1960s The groups appearing during this period are generally referred
to as the new religious movements of sub-Saharan Africa Several of these
movements actually began earlier but did not gain momentum until the late
1930s Some have changed little over the past fifty years Others have gone
underground because of political problems or declining membership and have
resurfaced often retaining their initial doctrinal and requirements
Since the 1970s during fourth period of expansion many groups have grown
from sectarian or movement-like organizations into denominations with in
ternational outreach These denominations often wield considerable political
influence and have broad popular appeal Therefore the term movement
is misnomer for them McGuire 1992 pp 138-142)
The original impetus for the growth of African independent Churches may
be traced to six basic conditions The disappointment of local converts
with the premises and outcomes of Christianity led to the growth of prophetic
and millenarian groups The translation of the Bible into local African ver
naculars stimulated reinterpretation of scripture and spiritual renewal in
mission-linked groups Reinterpretation of the scriptures also fueled the
development of new theologies that both criticized and incorporated the mes
sages of Euro-Christianity The perceived divisions in European and Ame
rican denominational Christianity and its failure to meet local needs influenced
the rise of separatist Churches and community-based indigenous Churches
The weakness of Western medicine in the face of psychological disorders
epidemics and natural disasters was catalyst for concerns with spiritual hea
ling in the new African religious movements The failure of mission
Churches to break down social ethnic and cultural barriers and generate
sense of community led to the strengthening of social ties in small sectarian
groups In general the African Churches have tried to create sense of
community and continuity in multiethnic urban environments and in rapidly
changing rural villages Jules-Rosette 1987a pp 82)
As we enter the twenty-first century African religious groups face new
set of challenges On the political level they must continue to stabilize their
relationships to the postcolonial state if are to survive Organizationally
many new Churches are now embroiled in resolving conflicts resulting from
the demise or disappearance of first generation of founders and followers
Finally new religions are forced to situate themselves in global
context That is leaders and followers must make clear decisions about the
codification of their theology the institutionalization of leadership hierarchies
and the universalization of membership requirements Independent and sepa
ratist movements that once placed such high value on autonomy uniqueness
and the localization of theology have been pushed to universalize their beliefs
cultural patterns and social organization in order to gain recognition in the
modern world These challenges resemble those faced by sectarian movements
worldwide during period of increasing secularization and global contact
Gill 1975 pp 109-118 2)
Examining historical changes in cross-section of independent Churches
and indigenous movements brings to light the contrasts between the problems
these groups faced during the colonial period and the shifts in their goals
and direction in the postcolonial era Three groups will be analyzed with
respect to their changes in organization and emphasis from the pre-inde-
pendence to the postcolonial era Zionist Churches in Zimbabwe and South
Africa Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe Zambia and Zaire and the
Kimbanguist Church in Zaire In addition to these three groups the Aladura
prayer movement originating in Nigeria will be discussed briefly for
The debate about the impact of secularization in Africa is complex The decline of
religiosity in increasingly bureaucratic Western societies is not necessarily characteristic of Afri
can societies GILL 1975 pp 109-110 WILSON 1982 pp 153-159 The growth of independent
churches in African during the 1960s and 1970s is sign that rise in religiosity is viable
response to modernization
comparative purposes The colonial period was fraught with social and
political uncertainty that fueled the rise of self-styled prophets who predicted
impending doom and the imminent emergence of new world order The pro
phets facilitated and engineered the cataclysmic replacement of old social
forms with new religious ideals through visionary predictions dramatic
witchcraft eradications exorcisms and host of other spiritual techniques
The initial sociological research conducted by outsiders on these groups
was often naive inaccurate or partial and has evolved as the Churches have
grown and spread Researchers such as Ralph Linton 1953 pp 230-240
and Vittorio Lanternari 1963 pp 20-22 viewed African religious movements
of the early twentieth century as nativistic reactions against colonial conflict
and economic oppression These studies treated members of African Churches
as racialized objects of inquiry rather than active cultural agents seeking stra
tegic means to improve their lives cf Gilroy 1993 pp 5-6 Georges Ba-
landier 1955 422 emphasized that the racial component of African
prophetism and messianism was reaction against the situation of inferiority
imposed by missions and colonial regimes In contrast Wyatt MacGaffey
1983 52 has pointed out that categories such as nativistic messianic
and modernizing presuppose limited range of psychological motivations
among Church members without examining their total social and cultural en
vironments or their subjective reasons for acting as they do Although eco
nomic factors and cultures of oppression certainly increase the appeal of
African prophets and messiahs they do not account for the wide variations
among the movements the long-term survival of many of the groups and
the changes that they have experienced during the postcolonial era
more productive approach to contemporary African prophetic move
ments and Churches takes into account their positioning in new global
context and the strategies that both leaders and followers have adopted to
maintain and expand the groups With modernity and the postmodern era come
the challenges of universalization secularization and global communication
Also integral to the advent of postmodernity in Africa as elsewhere is the
tension between community and fragmentation between essentialist identity
and global assimilation new Churches have faced these problems in
variety of ways ranging from the retreatist nativism found in Linton and
descriptions of nascent pre-independence religious movements
to the sophisticated ecumenical efforts of emerging African denominations to
ward integration with other world religions Therefore it is necessary to ex
plore the options taken by prophetic movements and Churches with
regard to their histories and their future goals
Elsewhere have written about the Apostles of John Maranke the Apostles of John
Masowe and the Kimbanguist church at greater length JULES-ROSETTE 1975 1987a pp 82-89
1987b pp 15-35 This discussion focuses on updated information that underscores how these
churches have dealt with the social and political challenges of the 1990s
The models developed by Ralph LINTON 1953 pp 230-240) Vittorio LANTERNARI
1965) and Peter WORSLEY 1968 emphasize the links between economic deprivation and the
rise of indigenous religious responses These functionalist models tend to oversimplify the or
ganizational structures and beliefs of the groups involved
Bengt Sundkler 1976 68 distinguishes between two types of Zionist
Churches those that trace themselves in some manner to John Alexander
Christian Catholic Apostolic Church formed in 1896 in Zio City
Illinois and other Churches or movements that are of the spirit umoya
type emphasizing faith healing therapy exorcism and related practices Inus
Daneel 1987 pp 39-41 counsels against overuse of the term Zionist to cha
racterize umoya Churches under which category he would place both of the
Apostolic groups to be discussed later These groups react strongly against
adopting the self-description of Zionist Widespread among the Shona and
Ndebele of Zimbabwe and the Zulu Swazi and Sothö in South Africa Zionist
Churches stress faith healing and spiritual inspiration Wearing multicolored
robes with sashes during their dance and drumming ceremonies Zionists
reach ecstatic states believed to induce visions and promote healing Comaroff
1985 pp 205-206 Much of Zionist symbology focuses on the enclosed cir
cle used to confine their dancing frame their cosmology and guide their
social and material practices Werbner 1989 pp 303-316 The groups listed
under this category are numerous totaling over 4800 in South Africa alone
and schism is common as they spread rapidly from one locale to the next
Daneel 1987 55 Karla Poewe 1989 pp 369-376 1994 pp 12-13 links
contemporary Zionists to the worldwide charismatic movement and views
them as religious innovators
Because of their tendency to shun politics it was widely believed that
Zionists would take conservative and passive role in the 1994 multiracial
elections in South Africa Described as South silent majority Keller
1994 pp 36-41) the Zio Christian Church ZCC and other Zionists num
bering nearly six million in South Africa held the key to 10 per cent of the
vote Keller 1994 pp 37 asserts Set aside the consuming question
of racial oppression and it may be that the Zio Christian Church is more
accurate reflection of black South Africa than is the African National
Congress The Zionists openness to listen with equal politeness and skep
ticism to all politicians from De Klerk to the ANC confused political ana
lysts The ZCC astonished social commentators and pollsters by liberalizing
its attitudes toward political participation and in some cases actively backing
the transition to Nelson new government In this instance Zionists
did not operate as religious group of the oppressed in sense
but instead as pivotal political and economic force in changing state
The Apostles of John Maranke and the Apostles of John Masowe two
independent Churches founded among the southern Shona in 1932 share sim
ilar organizational and demographic characteristics although their beliefs dif
fer Oral histories collected from members indicate that both groups started
immediately after devastating locust attack that led to famine in Southern
Rhodesia Jules-Rosette 1987b 24 Compounded with the worldwide eco
nomic depression the famine left residents of the region weak and helpless
John Maranke 1912-1963) born Muchabaya Ngomberume in the Umtali di
strict of Southern Rhodesia began to proselytize among his relatives after
near-death experience on July 17 1932 In October of the same year John
Masowe 1914-1973) born Shoniwa Masedza Tandi Moyo in the Hartley di
strict of Southern Rhodesia claimed to have died and been resurrected He
began to seek converts in the Rusape district just north of territory
Much reliable ethnographic and historical research has been conducted on both
of these Churches Daneel 1971 349 Dillon-Malone 1978 pp 28-45
Jules-Rosette 1977 pp 185-216 Kileff and Kileff 1979 pp 151-167 Ma
ranke who had been influenced by American Methodists and Seventh Day
Adventists emphasized fundamentalist reading of the Bible celebration of
Saturday as the sabbath Old Testament laws concerning food consumption
and ritual purification biblical perfectionism and strong work ethic In reac
tion against mission teachings he preached reliance on faith healing permitted
voluntary polygyny and encouraged le rate for widows In negative re
sponse to local customs he outlawed use of traditional medicines encouraged
nominal bride price and strengthened the role of women as healers and pro
phetesses in the group Jules-Rosette 1979 pp 127-144 Although the
Church encouraged economic autonomy and collective agricultural and busi
ness endeavors self-employment was not requirement Cheater 1981
pp 30-32 While Maranke had utopian vision for his community as the
Church spread variety of urban and rural lifestyles were tolerated for Church
Ultimately this flexibility allowed the group to survive expand its inter
national context and weather variety of schisms The most notable of these
schisms outside of the Zimbabwean context occurred in Zaire following the
enactment of Ordinance #71/012 December 31 1971) banning all inde
pendent Churches except Kimbanguism In reaction against legal suppression
the Zairian branch of the Maranke Church which by this time encompassed
several ethnic groups and transcended social class boundaries went under
ground Although regional interethnic and personality conflicts led to
schisms all Zairian groups still looked toward the Zimbabwean cen
ter for leadership In 1963 after death the first major schism oc
curred at the home base in Bocha and his two sons Abel and
Makebo assumed leadership of the group with Abel in charge of overseeing
all of the congregations Makebo died during the mid-1980s and Abel conti
nued to head the Church until his death in Harare in 1992 Succession was
initially achieved without dissent and the Maranke Apostolic Church is now
in its third generation of leadership
Although the Maranke Church was never simple nativistic response
to colonialism until the late 1940s it had remained incapsulated among the
southern Shona As the group expanded south toward Transvaal and north
toward Zaire between 1948 and 1956 changes in liturgy and local practice
occurred Shona was regarded as the major liturgical language to which songs
and preaching in local vernaculars were added Variations in local customs
lore and marriage practices occurred as result of this cross-cultural implan
tation These variations had particularly marked effect on the status of
women and marriage practices from one regional congregation to another
although Church endogamy was favored in all cases In sum the Church
became increasingly universalistic as it grew
Daneel 1987 39 notes that the Maranke Apostles are the largest in
dependent Church in Zimbabwe Although no official statistics exist for the
1990s the group numbers well over 500000 members internationally In the
1980s some Maranke members all of whom are required to be pacifists none
theless became involved with the Zimbabwean liberation movement Those
who were suspected to have participated in armed combat were questioned
by the Church leadership and occasionally excommunicated The moral di
lemmas that the chimurenga liberation movement posed for Maranke Apos
tles were related to the issue of armed conflict and not to the long-term goals
of building new nation Although Maranke originally viewed himself as an
African messenger reinterpreting Christianity for his people non-African
members have been admitted to the group creating reverse evangelism
with interesting cultural consequences thesis concerning the ra-
cialization of central African prophetism does not apply to the Maranke case
during the contemporary period Balandier 1955 pp 431-432)
In contrast the strident belief that the Shona were chosen people was
at the heart of John early message Influenced by his contact with
the Watchtower movement Masowe warned followers about the impending
millennium and preached that true believers would be saved He required self-
employment of all members and organized them into insulated social and eco
nomic communities group encountered political sanctions from its
earliest days In 1943 the group migrated en masse to the Korsten suburb
of Port Elizabeth South Africa There the group was known as the Korsten
Basketmakers supporting themselves by basket weaving tin smithing and
furniture making They also learned about automobile repair through indirect
contact with Port booming auto manufacturing industry and its
black labor union movement ICU When the South African government ini
tiated measures to repatriate the group in 1955 many members had already
fled to neighboring territories
Peter Chikono high-ranking evangelist in the group established himself
in Lusaka Zambia where he formally registered the on May 14 1963
Dillon-Malone 1978 37 Chikono arranged for plot of land to be leased
to the group in the Marrapodi suburb north of Lusaka There the Masowe
Apostles maintained an insulated enclave and engaged in little sustained re
ligious and social contact with outsiders During the late 1970s and early
1980s they were able to thwart various government and international agency
relocation plans and retain their community intact Jules-Rosette 1981
pp 171-196 With the exception of brief government investigation for il
legal activities in 1974 and some conflicts arising from internal schism the
Masowe Church maintained positive relations with the post-independence go-
BIAYA 1992 pp 139-141 describes the complexity and changes in Maranke Apos
tolic marriage patterns in contemporary Zaire He indicates that various practices such as the
annual virginity examination mushecho and lowering of bride price observed in Zimbabwe
are not prevalent among the Apostolic congregations of southwestern Zaire
vernment in Zambia Dillon-Malone 1978 pp 38-40 The group however
continued to be socially marginal and isolated
During the late 1960s and early 1970s members of the Masowe Church
migrated to Botswana Kenya Mozambique Tanzania and Zaire where they
also maintained enclosed communities Their relationships with the Kenyan
and Zairian governments were mixed and in both cases the Church was
eventually banned prolonged illness and his death in 1973 wea
kened the group and led to internal schisms An organizational crisis developed
after the 1974 Church Synod at Gandanzara at which members debated about
the dearth of qualified evangelists and local leaders Since its inception the
Church has suffered from the deaths of several high-ranking evangelists and
the defection of many others Dillon-Malone 1978 44 In spite of these
developments the Church made plans to establish congregations in London
as early as the late 1970s Whereas the Maranke group became more univer-
salistic as it expanded the Masowe Church retrenched into isolation and
conducted limited local proselytizing Neither group moved toward large-scale
written codification of its beliefs and practices and both groups avoided for
mal participation in local or international ecumenical organizations
Simon Kimbangu was born on September 24 1889 in the village of
Nkamba in the Ngombe district of lower Zaire then the Belgian Congo
Some reports claim that both his mother and father were traditional Kongo
healers Kimbangu attended the Baptist Missionary Society School at Wathen
In 1915 he was baptized along with his wife Marie-Mwilu at the Baptist
Mission in Ngombe-Lutete In the midst of the 1918-19 typhoid epidemic in
which thousands died Kimbangu reported that he received calling to heal
the sick He ignored this message however and fled to Kinshasa where he
worked for three years On April 1921 after returning to his home village
he gave sermon and performed his first public act of faith healing His
entire active ministry was only four months long In June of the same year
Léon Morel Belgian official pursued Kimbangu and he was finally arrested
on September 12 On October Kimbangu was sentenced to death by 120
strokes of the lash for sedition His death sentence was commuted by King
Albert and he was sent to Lubumbashi then Elisabethville) where he was
imprisoned until his death on October 12 1951
The early Kimbanguist movement is often singled out as prototype for
central African prophetism Kobben 1960 pp 117-164 Margull 1962
pp 51-63 Sinda 1972 pp 104-114 Indeed many local Bakongo leaders
known as ngunzists prophets) imitated and occasionally attached themselves
to movement The group was finally established as the glise de
Jésus-Christ sur la Terre par le Prophète Simon Kimbangu EJCSK in 1956
The village of Nkamba where Kimbangu started was renamed Nkamba-Je-
rusalem and became the seat of Church activities The group was led by Kim
three sons Charles Kisolokele Solomon Dialungana and Kuntima
Joseph Diangienda the supreme leader now deceased Thus Kimbanguism