Zim: The jury's out on Judgment Night

Weary of political squabbles and a deteriorating economy, Zimbabwe is looking to the heavens. Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa (centre) prays for congregants in Harare. (Aaron Ufumeli)

Weary of political squabbles and a deteriorating economy, Zimbabwe is looking to the heavens. Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa (centre) prays for congregants in Harare. (Aaron Ufumeli)

Religion is overtaking politics for Zimbabweans. With very little to celebrate on the occasion of Zimbabwe's 34th anniversary of independence and perhaps to escape from the sociopolitical constraints, public attention has shifted to a prophetic weekend event titled Judgment Night 2.

Ironically, politics will also overtake religion, as many will attend the hyped event in the hope that an economic and political solution will be delivered by charismatic prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa.

Even President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF, which has the unenviable task of leading the country in the middle of an economic meltdown, appears in the past few weeks to have been caught up in the euphoria of the event and has endorsed the event for providing a boon for "religious tourism".

Who will be judged and for what exactly is not made very clear by the United Family International Church's advertisements that have taken every available billboard space in Harare.

Many are hoping that there will be punishment from the heavens for the heads of state departments who have been earning as much as $500 000 a month while many workers have gone for months without salaries.

Others wish to see judgment for an election that many say was "stolen" by Zanu-PF last year.

Yet one theme is popular and central: money. Everyone anticipates that prosperity will visit them. Bankrupt of ideas and funds to revive the ailing economy, even government ministers are not shy to endorse Makandiwa's event at the National Sports Stadium that is anticipated to draw over 150 000 people into the capital.

Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi said Judgment Night, which held its inaugural event in 2012, had the potential to become a major event on the Christian calendar worldwide in the next few years.

"It is something like our own religious World Cup and it is in this area of its own size that government has been attracted," Mzembi said.

But critics say the ruling party is hoping for a miracle (or at least some ideas) to be delivered by the country's foremost charismatic movement leader at the all-night event.

The economy remains bleak, and last month recorded deflation for the first time since it abandoned its own Zimbabwe dollar that was battered by an unrelenting inflationary period in 2009. Now a liquidity crunch has felled hundreds of companies.

The Mail & Guardian reported last week that the government is now seriously considering returning to its own currency.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions estimates that nearly 9 600 people lost their jobs last year.

Struggling economy
The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority commissioner general, Gershem Pasi, last week gave the most ­candid assessment of the economy by a ­senior government official, warning that "tough times lie ahead".

With the warning knell now officially sounded, many feel nothing short of a miracle is needed.

At one time, China seemed to be the salvation the country needed; showing huge interest in the country's mining, construction, agriculture and energy sectors. But that interest has waned.

Eddie Cross, a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) legislator, said the situation in the country had deteriorated and, if nothing was done to engage the international community and unlock its economic potential very soon, there would be "big trouble" by the end of May.

"We are again in crisis and it is difficult to see how we can get ourselves out of the hole we have dug for ourselves".

Opposition parties are again increasingly becoming militant in their tone, with Job Sikhala, also of the MDC, ­warning supporters of a "war" against Mugabe. There is nothing new about bloodletting between the MDC and Zanu-PF. There is fatigue and little appetite for "wars" among supporters of the MDC, partly because of its own internal fights.

Turning to God
There is something that wearies the soul about Zimbabwe's brand of political engagement. It appears that, for many, God is the solution to the country's problems.

The United Family International Church has latched on to this mass fatigue, promising an alternative that will "transform lives", ­according to church spokesperson Prime Kufakunesu.

In a show of numbers last weekend that would make any political party envious, the churches' thousands of faithful took to the streets in the capital, halting traffic by their sheer numbers and marching as a warm-up session to advertise Judgment Night.

The largesse of the campaign for the event would make any political party rethink its own strategy: posters, flyers, T-shirts in abundance, all with images of Makandiwa embellished on motor vehicles, buildings, buses and even in abandoned places as far off as Bulawayo's once booming industrial areas.

"Our spirits have registered that something has taken place in the heavens and God is ready to judge our enemies or any kind of demon fighting us," Kufakunesu said.

On Friday during the day, Mugabe will host the 34th independence celebrations, where he may as usual rant against colonialism and how indigenisation will transform the lives of the poor.

But, by night, Mugabe's promises will not stop thousands who will troop to Makandiwa – hoping for a national miracle.

Ray Ndlovu

Ray Ndlovu

Ray Ndlovu has been a correspondent for the Mail & Guardian in Zimbabwe since 2009. His areas of interest include politics and business. With a BSc honours degree in journalism and media studies, Ray aspires to become a media mogul.   Read more from Ray Ndlovu

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