I have always had faith, always. Faith in myself and in everyone around me; I would believe in a person who never believed in themselves and have enough belief to make them believe. It was my faith that gave me a cheerful disposition, or maybe it all came down to Biology. I had to have enough faith to make up for the cynicism of my parents that’s for sure. Ah my parents, good, hard-working folks who never had it easy; they had to work extra hard to get to where they were. My father was the 18th child in a family of 20 children. His father was a polygamist, naturally. The way African men go for polygamy, one would be forgiven for thinking it is an occurrence among rich African men, but even the poor go for it. My grandfather had his 20th child at the ripe old age of 92, the wife was 38. My mother was the 1st child with nine siblings trailing her. By the time she was 4, she could cook, change a diaper, carry a child on her back and be a little mother, I sincerely doubt she ever experienced childhood. I understand my parents’ cynic look at the world, I loved them for it because they tried to prepare me for the reality of the world.
I could read before I was five, no small feat in a poor African country; there is this old joke about how if you want to hide something from a Zimbabwean, put it in writing. We are a learned, academic lot but ironically, we are not well read. My favourite book was The Holy Bible, especially my mother’s big maroon King James version one. I would get lost in the stories, from the young David fighting a Bear to Jesus producing enough food, with leftovers, for 5000. If you didn’t know, in most parts of Africa, left over food, especially meat, is taboo. A family that eats meat daily has to be at least middle income. In fact when I was growing up, chicken, rice and coleslaw salad where only eaten on Christmas and other special occasions, so you can imagine how impressed I was by fish being left over. Jesus being able to multiply food just blew my little mind. My 2nd favourite book was My Book of Bible Stories by Jehovah’s Witnesses; this was because the book had colourful images of the stories I loved reading about. How I loved starring at the picture of paradise with it’s green plants and animals moving about, so different from the dusty, crowded neighbourhood with its poverty that I lived in.
I had faith in the Institution of Christianity from a young age. I believed in it, thought it absolute and would not have traded it for anything. I attended church without my parents prompting me, I prayed daily and thought Jesus to be the most amazing miracle. In the Bible, God destroyed those who did bad things and promoted those who do good, hence my determination to do good so I would be rewarded by escaping poverty. I was just 5-years old and I knew I wanted to live the life the white people on television lived. I wanted to have bacon and sausage for breakfast, have a room to myself and bath under a shower with running water and so I prayed and had faith.
When you are born in Southern Africa, religion is foisted upon you at birth; you don’t choose Christianity it comes with the born in Southern Africa package. Of course our brand of Christianity is slightly different because we also sort of believe in our traditional beliefs when it suits us. Unless you live with one, you can never understand the dramatics of an African mother when it comes to religion. I remember how whenever my mom suspected I was lying she would quote the story of Ananias and Sapphira to me. The thought of death by lying was enough to terrorize little me and I grew up as a sweet, innocent and most importantly, honest girl. I went to the Holy Grail of the Lord church every Sunday with my parents and I loved watching the fierce competition between the women; they did love showing each other how perfect their uniforms where. You could not go to church without a proper uniform, the scorn you would receive would be enough to send you running. In fact I believed wearing an imperfect uniform was a sin. In church, the women with the perfectly tailored uniforms would be strutting up and down the aisle pontificating about how good the Lord had been to them because they gave to the church a lot. My parents had one uniform each, I only had the grey skirt which I wore with my white school shirt. My older brother was more fortunate, he wore a grey trousers and a white shirt as his school uniform and that was the same as the church uniform. Our school shoes were also our church shoes. My parents barely had enough to give in church and kept a low profile but never missed a service. All that never mattered to me, Jesus was love and the church believed in Jesus and therefore they were good.
It is only in a grown up’s hindsight that I now see how cruel the church really was, not just to us, but to all the poor families in church. I loved to sing, I had been told several times I had a beautiful voice, and I would do it with so much passion for the Lord. But whenever I tried to join in the children’s choir, I would be told it was already too full. After three years of trying to join, the choirmaster eventually told my father he did not want me in the choir because I did not have a proper uniform and this would ruin the aesthetic of the choir. My father tried to explain this to me in a much gentler tone and because I believed in the best, I went to pray for a uniform that would never come. Needless to say, I was never allowed to join the choir. People might be thinking, why did my parents not just buy the uniform, well clothes in Zimbabwe are expensive. I read it on the internet that in North Brunswick one can buy four sets of a girl’s uniform (including shoes can you believe it) for US$150. In my country on the other hand, a single set is about US$230 and this is a country where most people earn below US$500 a month.
It was not the unfair treatment between the rich and the poor that killed my faith; you see that unfair treatment I find is a natural human reaction to wealth, so I understood it. It did not matter to me that the only roles that were ever assigned to my family within the church was to provide hard labour, someone had to provide the hard labour after all (remind me to tell you about the time we had to mold 5000 bricks with two other families in one week, and no we were not using a machine) and despite my very small (probably malnourished) body, I am very strong so I had no problem with hard labour. My problem with the church arose because of the tendencies of most African Apostolic churches to claim that the “holy spirit” had instructed them to do something that did not make any sense at all.
Allow me to give you a brief background on the Holy Grail of the Lord Church. It is an African Apostolic church with a mixture of the Protestant doctrines. African Apostolic churches believe church leaders talk to the Holy Spirit and normally they worship outside in clear spaces. Our church had a building for normal worship but there is an alter outside that only serious Prophets sometimes go to. It is at these alter that people would go with their problems to consult the prophet and be told the solutions to their never ending problems. Men would go there to complain about their finances and they would be told that their old mothers were witches who did not want them to succeed in life because they were spending their money on their wives. Women would go there to complain about the ever wandering eye of their husbands and would be given formulas to separate the husband from his girlfriend. Usually they would be told to write the full name of their husband and of the girlfriend on a leaf of a Muhacha tree and pierce the leaf with a thorn and then put the leaf in a bottle full of chillies and water. They would then have to shake the bottle as much as they could until the husband and the girlfriend broke up (the shaking of the bottle supposedly would destabilize the affair) . If a girl was struggling to get married (25 is a bad age to reach without getting married), they would be told it was their aunt (father’s sister) who was bewitching them and like men, they would be given “prayers” to rectify this. These prayers would normally be three pebbles that you had to bath with at least twice a day.
My problems with the church started somewhere around the age of seventeen and my parents were blamed for it. You see my parents, especially my father, taught me that education was important for my brother and I to improve our lives and both my mother and father worked hard to make sure we got a good education. Now as we all know with education comes and appreciation of human rights and it was inevitable that I would clash with the church that I had so dearly loved from birth. I still remember clearly the day that Prophet Machado, a revered member of the church, stood up to say he had a message from the Holy Spirit. Upon him saying this, one of the women erupted into a chorus that would help the Holy Spirit come with such vigorous power upon Prophet Machado. I could feel the excitement in all of us, we lived for such moments, I lived for such moments when the Holy Spirit would take over our humble church service. The good prophet started prancing around and dancing to the singing and as i saw this i even sang louder and clapped my hands until they hurt. Then he raised his hands to signal for our silence and started talking. Such pronunciations by the “Holy Spirit” had been made a lot of times but this was the first time the implications really clicked and I started questioning our beliefs. The prophet had said that the Holy Spirit had declared that Elder Ncube take Silibaziso as his 7th wife. There were so many things wrong with this scenario; 1. Silibaziso or Sli as we called her, was only 14, 2. She was dating Thomas, the son of Elder Ncube and 3. Elder Ncube was 87.
I was seventeen, a virgin and had never dated because I was keeping myself for marriage as the Bible said we should but even I knew that sex would be good if it were with someone you were attracted too and I could not imagine Sli being attracted to the obese Elder Ncube with his beard that covered his whole mouth and his yellow teeth. What made it even worse was she had no choice but to accept such declarations because they were breathed upon the Prophet by the Holy Spirit. By that time, for reasons unknown to me, my whole family had moved to a purely Protestant church and I had been the remaining loyal one. I could not therefore ask my mother about the fairness of marrying off a girl barely in her teens to a man old enough to be her grandfather and so I asked an elderly woman in the church and she told me, despite it being illegal for a 14-year old to marry, the will of the Lord took precedence.
Within a month Sli had dropped out of school and began her life of marriage. I sometimes wonder how she must have felt with the choice taken away from her all because she had a woman’s curvy African body at her age. Subconsciously I started to notice that all girls who had the potential to be really curvy where chosen by the Holy Spirit to become child brides; I am grateful for my skinny frame because it saved me. Silibaziso quickly got pregnant, her mother boasted of the herbs she had given her child to make her more fertile, and the pregnancy was a difficult one but she could not go to the hospital because any Doctor or Nurse would have reported the matter to the police, she was just a child after all. It was up to her family, as per the culture, to provide her with herbs to make her body stronger. I saw her at church, she always came and was always seeking prayers from the prophets who told her that her sister wives where trying to eat her baby in utero because they were jealous that she was spending all nights with their husband. The sister wives were shamed and ridiculed every Sunday for their evil ways and were forced to confess their sins in front of everyone. To this day I do not understand why they kept coming to church, but then in our church the husband had power over their wives.
The more Sli’s health deteriorated, the more I questioned the decisions of the prophets, it hardly seemed right that the Holy Spirit who chose Sli to be a bride at fourteen would not allow her to get medical help. I garnered a bit of support from the women who did not understand why she could not get the medical help she obviously needed. One of the women must have alerted the prophets to my questions because before I knew what was happening, I had been placed under punishment for disrespecting the Holy Spirit and was banned from coming to church for a month and another member, Prophet Joram, announced that the Holy Spirit had decreed that no one in the church would consult doctors or western medicine for any sickness. I am ashamed to say that I was told people celebrated at this announcement because they believed the Holy Spirit would heal them.
Silibaziso’s time came and some elderly church women were in attendance. They were positive that the labour would progress well because Sli had been taking elephant dung since she was about five months along (my people believe elephant dung helps with labour) but something went wrong and both Sli and the baby died. Outsiders of the church have said the baby was in breach and the inexperienced church women did not know what to do. The people in the church though believed that the youngest sister wife had killed Sli and her baby out of jealousy and to eat them because she was a witch. They buried Sli on a rainy day in the rural areas to avoid a lot of questions from the police. I cried as they lowered her coffin. As if that was not enough, I watched as the church elders “cast out the demon” of witchcraft that had supposedly possessed the accused sister wife right there by Sli’s grave. No one saw the injustice being perpetrated on women, they accused none existent demons for the horrendous works of paedophiles who used the church as an excuse. I struggle to believe in God sometimes because how can he watch while people use his name to invoke crimes against women like me. I since left the church and I am told my family and I are still discussed as a bad example. I am told the elders tell people that if they do not listen to what the Holy Spirit tells them, they will end up average like my parents, with an unmanageable wife like my brother (his wife is an angel who is a famous tough police officer) and an unmarried old hag like me; I am a 32-year old single investment analyst.
I am still working on finding a church where the doctrine that i believe are of Jesus; the doctrine of pure love, to reveal itself to me.