What Religion is Zimbabwe? An Overview of Religious Demographics and Trends

Zimbabwe is a predominantly Christian nation, with around 85% of the population identifying as Christian. The main Christian denominations are:

  • Protestant – This includes Methodist, Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist, and Seventh Day Adventist churches. About 65% of Christians in Zimbabwe are Protestant.
  • Roman Catholic – Around 20% of Christians in Zimbabwe are Catholic. The Catholic Church has had a presence in Zimbabwe since the late 19th century.
  • Apostolic sects – These are African Independent Churches that combine Christianity with traditional African beliefs. They account for around 10% of the Christian population. The major Apostolic sects are the Zion Christian Church and the African Apostolic Church.

There are also minorities of other religions:

  • Traditional African religions – Around 10% of Zimbabweans practice traditional African religions such as ancestor worship and animism. These traditional beliefs still influence the worldview of many people.
  • Islam – Muslims make up around 1% of the Zimbabwean population. Most are Sunni Muslims. Islam first arrived in Zimbabwe through Arab and Swahili traders in the 19th century.
  • Other – This includes small numbers of Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Baha’is, and others. Together they are less than 1% of the population.

What is the history and background of Christianity in Zimbabwe?

Christianity first arrived in what is now Zimbabwe during the colonial era in the late 19th century. The earliest Christian missionaries were British Protestants from societies such as the London Missionary Society and the Methodists. They established missions and schools across the country.

The British sought to convert the indigenous Shona and Ndebele peoples to Christianity. However, uptake of the religion was initially slow. It was not until after World War I that Christian denominations began to grow more rapidly.

African nationalism and resistance to colonialism stimulated Zionism and other Apostolic movements that combined Christianity with African religious sensibilities.

After independence in 1980, the new government of Robert Mugabe adopted a reconciliatory stance towards Christianity. As a result, Christianity grew rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s. The Catholic Church also became more prominent during this period with the arrival of Irish and Polish priests. Indigenous sects continued to grow in strength too.

Today, Christian churches play important social and political roles in Zimbabwean society. Church leaders often speak out on issues of human rights and political reform. However, some criticize churches for not doing enough to challenge government authoritarianism.

What role does religion play in Zimbabwe’s culture and society?

Religion, predominantly Christianity, plays an integral role in Zimbabwean culture and society. Here are some of the major ways that religion influences life in Zimbabwe:

  • Moral and ethical beliefs – Religious teachings shape personal moral values, family norms, and community ethics for most Zimbabweans.
  • Rites of passage – Birth, marriage, and funeral ceremonies usually involve religious rituals for Christians, Muslims, and followers of African traditional religion.
  • Political legitimacy – Politicians often use religious language or imagery to try to legitimize their leadership and policies.
  • Social services – Churches and mission schools provide education, healthcare, and other social services, especially in rural areas. The Catholic Church runs an extensive network of hospitals and schools.
  • Community ties – Religion reinforces community identity and relationships through worship services, youth groups, and charity work. Apostolic groups have a strong sense of community.
  • Religious freedom – Zimbabwe generally promotes freedom of religion, although some Christian sects have faced discrimination.
  • Syncretism – Many Zimbabweans blend elements of Christianity with African traditional worldviews and practices. Some Apostolic churches incorporate spiritual healing and mediumship.

So religion continues to play a significant public role in a society that maintains strong Christian and traditional beliefs. However, an increasing number of agnostics and atheists live in urban centers.

What are some key facts and statistics about religion in Zimbabwe?

Here are some key facts and statistics about the religious makeup of Zimbabwe:

  • Around 85% of the total population is Christian, based on self-identification.
  • Protestants make up around 65% of the Christian population, Catholics 20%, and Apostolic groups 10%.
  • The largest Protestant denomination is Methodist, with over 1 million followers.
  • The Zion Christian Church has over 1.2 million members in Zimbabwe, the country with the largest ZCC following.
  • Around 10% belong to traditional African religions. The main tribes – Shona and Ndebele – have related but distinct belief systems.
  • Muslims make up around 1% of the population. Most are Sunni. There are also small numbers of Sufis and Shias.
  • Only around 0.5% to 1% identify as nonreligious – including atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists.
  • Harare, the capital, has a higher percentage of nonreligious people at nearly 5% of the population.
  • Over 70% of Zimbabweans say religion is “very important” to their lives according to Pew Research.
  • Zimbabwe has officially been a secular state since the adoption of its first constitution in 1979.

So while Zimbabwe remains a strongly Christian-majority country, its Constitution protects freedom of religion for all citizens. Other faiths and non-religious groups represent small but significant parts of the population.

How does Zimbabwe compare to other African countries in terms of religion?

When compared with other sub-Saharan African nations, Zimbabwe roughly reflects the continent’s general religious demographics with a few notable characteristics:

  • Along with countries like South Africa and Malawi, Zimbabwe has a higher percentage of Christians than the African average of around 63%.
  • Zimbabwe’s Muslim population of 1% is lower than the African average of 30%. Many North and West African countries are majority Muslim.
  • The share of the population following indigenous religions in Zimbabwe (about 10%) is lower than the African average of about 27%.
  • Zimbabwe has relatively high numbers of Protestants compared to other African countries where Catholicism and Islam are often larger.
  • Zimbabwe has a diversity of independent African Christian churches, especially Apostolic/Zionist denominations, like a number of southern African countries.
  • The percentage of religiously unaffiliated Zimbabweans is quite low in contrast to parts of North Africa, Asia, and the West. Very few Africans identify as atheist or agnostic.

So Zimbabwe exhibits the high level of Christian affiliation common in southern Africa. But traditional African religions and syncretic Christian groups also have a strong cultural presence in Zimbabwe, reflecting broader beliefs across sub-Saharan Africa.

What predictions are there for future religious trends in Zimbabwe?

Here are some predictions and possibilities for the future religious landscape in Zimbabwe:

  • Continued growth of Christianity seems likely, but perhaps at a slower rate. Much of the population growth is now among Christians.
  • Protestant denominations may slowly lose some share to spiritual Apostolic groups, Catholics, and nonreligious affiliations.
  • Catholic growth will depend partly on immigration rates from other African countries with large Catholic populations.
  • Islam is expected to grow moderately due to immigration, conversions, and higher birth rates among Muslims.
  • Migration of young people to urban areas could increase secularization and religious disaffiliation over time, particularly in major cities.
  • Charismatic Christianity and prosperity gospel churches seem to be gaining popularity in urban Zimbabwe.
  • Declines in traditional religion may accelerate, but African spiritual beliefs seem likely to influence Christianity.
  • Government promotion of apostolic groups could decline if they are seen as too anti-establishment.
  • Potential political reforms could increase religious freedoms and diversity if authoritarian policies are reversed.

So while Christianity seems poised to remain Zimbabwe’s dominant religion, an interplay of migration, secularization, and Africanization trends could diversify Zimbabwe’s religious demographics in the coming decades. But substantial change may be gradual.

What are the sources of religious tension or conflict in Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe has generally had less overt religious conflict than some other African nations. However, there are a few areas of tension:

  • Sectarian divide – There is sometimes rivalry and distrust between mainstream churches and independent Apostolic groups. Apostolic churches are occasionally characterized as deviant cults.
  • Muslim-Christian relations – Low-level tensions exist between the Muslim minority and some Christian groups. Muslims face discrimination in some areas.
  • Political issues – Religious groups are impacted by Zimbabwe’s political problems. Some church leaders have been co-opted or threatened by the ruling party.
  • Culture wars – There are disagreements between religious conservatives and secular liberals over social issues like homosexuality, abortion, and women’s rights.
  • Religious intolerance – Minority faiths like Islam or Hinduism experience social hostility and bias from some Christians in Zimbabwe.
  • Government restrictions – The government has been accused of restricting certain religious groups, like Apostolic churches.
  • Health practices – Apostolic groups have clashed with the government over public health policies on issues like vaccination and midwifery.

So Zimbabwe has not generally faced major religious conflicts. But structural issues like the church-state dynamic, social inequality, and cultural divisions contribute to religious tensions that occasionally flare up. Ongoing political and economic instability also impact religious freedom.

What role have religious groups played in politics and civil society in Zimbabwe?

Religious groups and leaders have played a variety of public roles in Zimbabwe’s politics and civil society:

  • Political activism – In the 1970s, churches supported the liberation struggle against white minority rule. Today, some progressive church leaders advocate for democracy and human rights.
  • Mediation and reconciliation – Church and interfaith groups have tried to mediate between political parties during crises. The Zimbabwe Council of Churches promoted post-conflict reconciliation in the 1980s.
  • Partisan politics – Some religious figures align directly with political parties. Observers accuse Bishop Mutendi of the ZCC of supporting the ruling ZANU-PF party.
  • Social services – Churches provide healthcare, education, shelter, and other public services otherwise lacking due to state failure. The Catholic Church runs an extensive social welfare network.
  • Values promotion – Religious lobbies like the Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV have advocated for human dignity, compassion, integrity, and morality in law and policymaking.
  • Critiquing inequality – Some religious leaders have condemned economic injustice, corruption, and abuse of power by elites. Outspoken clerics face threats of violence or arrest in ZImbabwe.
  • Conservatism – Evangelical and Catholic leaders publicly oppose social changes they see as violating religious teachings on issues like marriage, sexuality, and reproduction.

So religious institutions play important advocacy and social service roles, often providing a voice of conscience. But they also represent a range of theological perspectives and political positions.

What are some examples of influential religious leaders in Zimbabwe?

Some prominent religious leaders from different denominations who have had an influential impact in Zimbabwe include:

Ezekiel Guti – Founder of Zimbabwe Assemblies of God Africa (ZAOGA), one of Zimbabwe’s largest Pentecostal churches with branches across Africa. He is considered a pioneering leader in African Pentecostalism.

Emmanuel Makandiwa – A popular televangelist who founded an independent charismatic megachurch in Harare, United Family International Church. He has attracted devotion but also some controversy for his spiritual practices.

Nolbert Kunonga – The former Anglican bishop of Harare was a controversial supporter of Robert Mugabe who led a breakaway Anglican faction and seized church assets. He was eventually ex-communicated by the Anglican church.

Pius Ncube – The former Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo was an outspoken government critic who called for regime change. He resigned in 2007 amid controversy over alleged sexual misconduct.

Trevor Manhanga – As head of the Pentecostal Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, Bishop Manhanga has been a leading advocate for church political engagement and ethical leadership.

Johane Masowe – Founder of a major Apostolic denomination mixing Christianity with African ancestral beliefs. His followers incorporate spirit possession in worship. The sect is one of Zimbabwe’s largest religious movements.

Ishmael Mukuwanda – A popular evangelist and faith healer who founded the Zimbabwe Assemblies of Jesus Christ. He claims to receive prophecies and powers directly from God.

Andrew Wutawunashe – This founder of the Family of God church pioneered Maranatha campus ministries across Zimbabwe. His church combines evangelism with civic participation.

What are the constitutional protections for religious freedom in Zimbabwe?

Here are some of the key constitutional provisions protecting religious liberty in Zimbabwe:

  • Section 60 guarantees freedom of conscience and the right to freely practice and propagate religion. This includes the ability to change religion.
  • Section 61 prohibits discrimination based on religious grounds, while allowing exceptions for religious organizations to prefer their members.
  • Section 62 mandates that no one can be coerced in matters of religion and provides for conscientious objection.
  • Sections 58 & 59 protect freedom of assembly and association. This enables religious groups to gather and organize freely.
  • Section 86 prohibits religious discrimination in the distribution of state funding or other resources. The state must treat all religions equally.
  • Section 87 prevents mandatory religious education. Religion must be opt-in at public schools.

So constitutionally Zimbabwe’s government is secular and pluralistic. All religious groups and individuals have equal status before the law. In practice, though, some minorities face prejudice and periodic restrictions. Constitutional rights are inconsistently upheld due to Zimbabwe’s political challenges.

What are some examples of religious discrimination or restrictions in Zimbabwe?

While Zimbabwe’s Constitution protects religious freedom, some forms of religious discrimination persist:

  • Apostolic groups face discrimination in public services and political representation. The government accuses them of undermining health efforts and the economy.
  • Muslims have difficulty getting permits to build mosques. Muslim women’s dress is sometimes restricted.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses have faced arrest and obstacles to practicing their faith due to their refusal of military service.
  • The government has proposed banning foreign pastors at times, arguing they spread hate speech and foreign influence.
  • Access to state media and coverage is sometimes preferentially provided to certain major churches aligned with government interests.
  • Security forces occasionally crack down violently on syncretic churches that incorporate African spirituality into worship.
  • Christian and Muslim clerical garb has been banned in some public schools and hospitals as part of national dress codes.
  • Zimbabwe’s marriage laws do not recognize Muslim, Hindu, customary law, or secular marriage – only Christian marriage.

So despite constitutional protections, minority groups face public prejudices and administrative obstacles. The authoritarian government is quick to curb religious activities it views as undermining its authority.

What advocacy exists for religious freedom and interfaith harmony in Zimbabwe?

Some efforts and initiatives promoting interfaith understanding and religious freedom in Zimbabwe include:

  • The Zimbabwe Interfaith Council brings together Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim representatives for dialogue, advocacy, and joint community service projects.
  • The National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations offers legal assistance to religious groups facing discrimination and pushes for reforms.
  • Religious leaders cooperate through groups like the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations to mediate conflicts and promote tolerance.
  • Interfaith conferences like the National Symposium on Religious Freedom and Peaceful Co-Existence provide platforms for discussing challenges and recommending changes.
  • Religious education reforms aim to portray diverse beliefs positively in schools. Some schools hold interfaith prayer days.
  • Progressive religious NGOs like Silveira House promote social justice and humanitarian principles shared across faiths and philosophies.
  • Social media activists draw attention to cases of intolerance and lobby for equal rights regardless of religion.
  • Leaders urge policies upholding Zimbabwe’s secular constitutional values rather than sectarian ideologies.

So while discrimination issues persist, many religious groups and human rights organizations actively champion religious liberty, diversity, and cooperation as democratic ideals. But more work remains in changing mindsets and policy.

What is the outlook for religious freedom in Zimbabwe going forward?

The outlook for religious freedom in Zimbabwe is cautiously optimistic but depends significantly on broader social and political developments.

Potential improvements could include:

  • Greater tolerance and cooperation as the population urbanizes, becomes more educated, and adopts more pluralistic values.
  • Fewer restrictions on minority groups if government power is decentralized and democracy strengthened through reforms.
  • More equal access to state media and government services for all religions.
  • A greater focus on shared national interests over sectarian agendas in politics.
  • Resolution of conflicts around issues like public health as Apostolic groups are better integrated.
  • Growth of interfaith civil society as more youth participate and advocate for diversity.

But continued repression, economic decline, populism, and cultural resistance to change could inhibit religious liberty. Guaranteeing rights in practice remains challenging.

Ultimately, Zimbabwe realizing its constitutional promise of religious freedom relies on institutions being reformed to serve all citizens irrespective of beliefs. But religions can assist this process by promoting their shared values of human dignity, compassion, and justice.

Conclusion

In conclusion, religion plays an enormously important role in Zimbabwe’s national culture and public life. Christianity is the faith of the vast majority, with Protestant and Apostolic churches being particularly influential. However, Zimbabwe also exhibits notable religious diversity, with minority Muslim, ancestral religion, and nonreligious populations.

While the Constitution protects religious freedom on paper, discrimination issues persist in practice, especially against non-mainstream faiths. The government’s authoritarian stance also threatens religious liberty. However, interfaith civil society groups are working to promote tolerance and uphold constitutional principles of pluralism and equality.

Moving forward, the greatest hope for religious harmony lies in strengthening Zimbabwean democracy overall. As political institutions become more inclusive of all Zimbabweans, the country stands a better chance of realizing the ideals of religious freedom in its founding charter. But civil society must keep advocating for liberty of conscience as a universal human right.

FAQs about religion in Zimbabwe

What is the largest religion in Zimbabwe?

The largest religion in Zimbabwe is Christianity, with around 85% of the total population identifying as Christian. Most Zimbabwean Christians are Protestant, belonging to denominations such as Methodist, Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist, and Seventh Day Adventist.

What percentage of Zimbabwe is Catholic?

Around 20% of Christians in Zimbabwe identify as Roman Catholic. The Catholic Church has had a presence in Zimbabwe since the late 1800s during the colonial era. Catholics represent roughly 15% of Zimbabwe’s total population.

What are African Independent Churches?

African Independent Churches, also called African Initiated Churches or Apostolic sects, are Christian denominations founded in Africa by Africans that combine Christianity with traditional African religious beliefs and practices. In Zimbabwe, African Independent Churches such as the Zion Christian Church make up about 10% of the Christian population.

Is Zimbabwe a secular country?

Zimbabwe has been a formally secular state since adopting its first constitution as an independent nation in 1979. The current 2013 Constitution protects freedom of religion and prohibits state endorsement of any particular religious creed. However, some argue Zimbabwe is not entirely secular in practice.

What minority religions exist in Zimbabwe?

Minority religious groups in Zimbabwe include traditional African religions, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and various other faiths. About 10% of Zimbabweans follow traditional African religions. Muslims make up around 1% of the population. Together, other minority faiths are less than 1%.

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