Two days after the collapse of a six-storey hostel in Lagos housing followers of Nigerian preacher TB Joshua, the famed prophet did not seem particularly shaken as he conducted a service at his colossal Synagogue Church of All Nations building. “Don’t be afraid. You are not the target. I am,” he told worshippers.
Joshua did not give full details of the accident and focused instead on a plane repeatedly flying low above the building an hour before its collapse and read out a message from a supposed Boko Haram would-be bomber seeking conversion.
Known for performing controversial “miracle” healings, Joshua attracts a large South African following that has included visits from South African politicians such as Winnie Madkizela-Mandela and Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, as well as the late Springbok rugby players Ruben Kruger and Wium Basson.
Stephen Hayes, a Pretoria-based missiologist, called Joshua a manifestation of the third wave of Pentecostalism (1980 to 2010), which he describes as neo-Pentecostalism.
“[This wave] gathered people who were frustrated by the opposition to the charismatic renewal movement in the mainline churches,” he said in an email. “The main emphasis shifted away from speaking in tongues to healing and exorcism, and, in some instances, an emphasis on material prosperity.”
Nigerian sociologist of religion, Asonzeh Ukah, from the University of Cape Town’s school of religion, described Lagos as the world capital of Pentecostalism.
TB Joshua is renowned for ‘miracle’ healings and has a large following among South Africans, including some celebrities.
In July this year, an article in the Economist declared that Pentecostal church attendance in Britain grew by 25% between 2008 and 2013, with 430 000 people attending West African and Brazilian Pentecostal churches. These have altered practices in traditional churches; the Anglican Church in England now does outdoor baptisms.
In 2011, Joshua was third on the Forbes list of Nigeria’s five richest pastors, whose net worth was estimated at close to $15-million.
Joshua cannot be understood as a Christian enterprise, said Ukah.
“He has improved as a performer from when he started many years ago [he started his ministry in 1989],” he said. “In the early Nineties, his performance could be characterised as that of a magician, an entertainer in the mould of popular street performers. He has refined his practice. Now he can speak for a long time in fairly good English. In the early Nineties he could not preach a sermon because he couldn’t speak English. But he remains controversial in his mode of practice. He does not have a theology.”
Ironically, it was pressure from the fellowship that allowed Joshua to flourish even further and set up Emmanuel TV. On April 30 2004, a law by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) came into effect, making it illegal to broadcast material containing the performance of miracles that have not been verified before the broadcast.
“It was instigated by the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, with the NBC acting as a gatekeeper,” said Ukah. “[The president at the time, Olesugun] Obasanjo saw himself as a Pentecostal pastor. He fraternised with Pentecostal pastors and moved from church to church. The law forced TB to set up Emmanuel TV [which operates out of Johannesburg].”