HIV and Religion in Zim…Churches, Sangomas, Mapostori speak out

RELIGION can be defined as a set of beliefs, feelings, dogmas and practices that define the relations between human beings and sacred or divinity.

By Michael Gwarisa recently in Mutare

A given religion is defined by specific elements of a community of believers: dogmas, sacred books, rites, worship, sacrament, moral prescription, interdicts, and organisation.

Even though it is widely agreed that Zimbabwe is a Christian nation, a number of religious practices are observed making Zimbabwe a multi religious country. Pentecostalism, African Traditional Religion (ATR) and cultism known as Chipostori are among some of the highly followed beliefs in the country even though Islam, Judaism, Scientology and Buddhism also have a following.

Most religions believe in the existence of a supreme God who is most powerful. However, when it comes to the issue of HIV and AIDS, treatment, counseling and testing a number of differences arise.

Revelations from the just ended Civil Society Organisations treatment meeting in Mutare which was organised by the Zimbabwe Aids Network (ZAN) showed that most white garment churches (Mapostori) needed massive treatment literacy and advocacy owing to their unwavering faith in Angels and Abraham which has blinded them from the reality of HIV and its effects.

Madzibaba Viginance (Daniel Derera) from the Masowe YeChishanu Apostolic sect in Muatare  who also claims there is a parliament in heaven said HIV does not exist in their world and if it tries to sneak into the church or an HIV positive person comes to their shrine, there is an angel whose sole duty is to detect HIV in congregants or new converts.

“We have an angel, he rarely visits but when he does,  he ensures he plucks out HIV by exposing all those who will be infected. We believe that the angels will never lead one into marrying an HIV positive person, these angels are well equipped to deal with these issues.

“When it comes to the issue of HIV testing and counselling, we do not encourage our people to get tested. That is against our beliefs, our angels also conduct body and blood scans to ensure one does not marry a sick person. Our belief is so rich, we have every trade and field of expertise stocked up somewhere in the spiritual realm and these angels conduct medical and other health tests for our people,” said Madzibaba Viginance.

He also said in the event that a person is detected by the angels to be HIV positive, the angels will give them guidance as to how one should follow a certain procedure up until a time they get healed by the angels.

Utilisation of health services by members of apostolic sects is still very low in Zimbabwe making it difficult for programmers to accurately document the exact number of people living with HIV and those who might be in need in of Anti Retro-viral Therapy (ART). Most apostolic sects do not encourage condom use as they believe God said people should be fruitful and multiply.

Even though some apostolic sects such as the African Apostolic Church (AAC) ye Kwa Mwazha are believed to have embraced uptake of health services such as ART, family planning and others, members of the Marange and Maswoe Yechishanu are deeply rooted in their beliefs.

Pentecostal churches however share different sentiments with Masowe Echishanu as they encourage their followers to adhere to ART as well as take up health services.

Pastor Ian Maromo from Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) said the issue of adherence was even encouraged by Jesus in all his miraculous acts as he would constantly advise those he would have healed to return to elders to prove he or she would have been healed.

“When it comes to issues of faith, we get our definition from Hebrews 11, verse 1 which says, “Now faith is the substance if things hoped for, the substance of things not seen,”. Because of that people are pushed to believe in things hoped for.

“This is the same faith that makes people believe that even after taking medications, people can be healed. Now that because  faith is also invested in the man of God, followers are bound to believe him to the extent that even if he says stop taking your medication, you have been healed since I have prayed for you, people will stop taking medicines,” said Pastor Maromo.

He added that pastors and prophets should not abuse their power by encouraging congregants to discontinue their medication but rather follow in the path and Christ who has already set the pace on was a huge proponent of health procedures

“That is where we have the problem, we should take after Jesus who would advise those he would have healed to return to the church elders to show them that they were healed.

“Now with religion, when we pray for people and claim to have healed them we should direct them back to the hospital where they would have gotten their medical examination and results so that they can go through tests to verify whether they have been healed or not,” said Pastor..

Even though most Christian denominations and churches believe in ART adherence and encourages followers to take up health services, some contemporary groups being led by modern day prophets are in the habit of discouraging followers from taking their  ARVs drugs claiming they have healing powers over HIV.

Prophet Walter Magaya, leader of the Prophetic Healing and Deliverance (PHD) Ministries recently grabbed headlines after he had claimed to have found cure for HIV through a herb called Aguma. In many instances, he among a host of other prophets have been on record claiming to have healed HIV patients.

Meanwhile, Traditional healers under the Zimbabwe Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA) say they work under strict guidance of the ministry of health and child care (MoHCC) and whenever they feel they can no longer handle a patient or it’s a case of HIV, they refer the patient to a health institution for professional medical help.

Ambuya Sekai Fitu, a traditional healer and member of the ZINATHA said they encourage patients to take their medicines and also subscribe to the idea of HIV testing and counseling.

“As traditional healers, we are members of ZINATHA a government recognised body, we were given strict instructions not to delve into things we are not sure off. We are traditional healers and not doctors, we should accept that there are other things we cannot do and they require medical attention.

“In the spiritual, I can heal so many things including solving marital problems, locking a man or woman to ensure they don’t cheat and other diseases but when it comes to HIV that is beyond me, it needs medical attention and expertise” said Ambuya Fitu.

Zimbabwe Aids Network (ZAN) National Coordinator, Taruai Nyandoro however implored religious leaders not to mislead their followers by falsely claiming to have healing and curing powers over HIV.






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