At the Crossroads: A Call to Christians to Act in Faith for an Alternative Zimbabwe
Masiiwa Ragies Gunda, At the Crossroads: A Call to Christians to Act in Faith for an Alternative Zimbabwe, University of Bamberg Press, 2018, pp. 113
Reviewed by Brian Maregedze.
Masiiwa Ragies Gunda’s book is timely as the ‘Zimbabwe crisis’ is traced from 1997 to 2018. Although the backdrop of the 1997 period saw Zimbabwe entering into an unending crisis, Gunda begins by addressing the failures of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes adopted in the early 1990s.
More outstanding is the focus on the centrality of Christianity and its relevance in responding to socio-economic and political challenges that have bedevilled Zimbabwe. A number of books and academic articles have been written over the past year in Zimbabwe, since the November 2017 exit of Robert Mugabe in the political stage. Gunda’s book, At the Crossroads: a Call to Act in Faith for an Alternative Zimbabwe, takes a Christocentric reading of the Zimbabwe crisis with a bias towards the plight of the ordinary people.
In the introductory chapter, Gunda captures the ‘Black Friday’ of 1997 episode, building on scholars such as Brian Raftopolous and others. The two questions from which Gunda set out to address in the book are well articulated. The first question is posited towards Christians in Zimbabwe at individual level in relation to challenges affecting the country. The second and last objective being that of Christians and alternative imaginations on Zimbabwe.
The second chapter has a focus on social justice analysis to the Zimbabwe crisis. From the War veterans gratuities funds, Gunda writes with a critical view of the way events unfolded by arguing that the gratuities were nothing but “tokens for political preservation” by those who had been in power (p.25). This, Gunda stresses, does not mean to dismiss the importance of addressing the plight of war veterans, but rather, the way the gratuities were distributed had greater harm to the generality of Zimbabweans at the time. There was an alternative to this situation, which is addressed in the chapter. To Gunda, workers were the greatest victims to this decision as he labelled it, “that moment of madness (p.26).”
With the third chapter, Gunda takes a critical socio-theological analysis of the church in Zimbabwe. More interesting is that, a stock take of the importance of the church is undertaken, from its inception to the year 2018. The good and the bad associated with Christianity in made, that is, the [in]consistencies and contradictions are dealt with. An appraisal of the activities carried out by the church in support of peace are made, such as the National Day of Prayer. On the contrary, Gunda questions why they are no such days in light of National Days for Marching for Freedom and Justice (p. 47).
The fourth chapter dealt with the importance of the Bible, developing from Jesus’ movement in relation to socio-economic challenges affecting the people of Zimbabwe. Gunda makes it clear that, Jesus’ movement was there for justice to prevail, fairness and truth being central (p.64).
The fifth chapter exposes how, in the history of Jesus’ movement, manipulations took shape. The ‘Empire captured’ the Jesus’ movement and the needs of the ordinary citizens were forsaken. Gunda mentions, ‘the spiritualization of poverty’ from which Biblical [mis]reading was carried out at the expense of the suffering poor people (p.67). The Roman Empire is deployed within the Biblical contexts, whilst during the colonial period, Africans, suffered under some missionaries who worked as agents of the colonialists. In post independent Zimbabwe, some form of Christianity was identified by Gunda, which in this case, serves the interests of the ruling elite at the expense of the suffering ordinary people. Gunda further interrogates on why today’s leaders are at ease with going to churches and even the church leaders no longer rebuke social injustices as it was with the Jesus’ movement.
Tracing from land dispossession in the colonial period, Gunda, moves on to address how the church was silent on land question, thirteen years after Zimbabwe attained its independence. Resting on shoulders of other academics such as Bakare, the late Canaan Banana, Obvious Vengeyi and others, the land question is dealt with.
Building on the previous chapters, Gunda argues that Zimbabwe is in a serious crisis because of the kind of Christianity it has, which is pro-empire (p. 81). In an attempt to rekindle the imperatives of Christianity, Gunda argues that from its history in Zimbabwe, lessons can be learnt from African Initiated Churches (AICs) and others which struggled to entangle the colonial brutalities of their time. Even in mainline churches in Zimbabwe, Gunda believes that, sparks of true faith once existed and these can be revived to confront the problems affecting Zimbabwe in general.
The last chapter, which is the seventh, mainly reflects on the contradictions and inconsistencies found within Christianity and or among Christians in Zimbabwe. The corruption index found in the country, the politicians who claim to be Christians whilst the country is in such a sorry state of fragility among others are articulated. The need to “re-discover the revolutionary practice and rhetoric inherent in the Jesus movement from its inception but which the powers of this world have consistently tried to emasculate, with some success through the history of humankind” is more stressed (p.92).
However, it can be observed that, in as much as Gunda’s book confronts Christians in Zimbabwe in general, there are implicit suppositions which position Christianity at the top pedestal of world religions. In pondering on the Zimbabwe crisis, it is undeniable that other religious orientations can be dealt with. There are also other ‘unheard voices’ who have made attempts to confront the establishment in Zimbabwe but with vehement resistance. The case of Evan Mawarire and the like-minded could have been dealt with as these examples indicate the positive role that Christians are making to challenge the establishment on various socio-economic problems in Zimbabwe.
Nonetheless, Gunda’s Bible in Africa Studies (Bias) publication remains a welcome contribution to liberation theology as it appeals to both academics and non-academics particularly with a focus on Zimbabwe. This, in no doubt, adds to the literature on Zimbabwe’s unending crisis from a Religious Studies outstanding scholar who approaches the context from a bottom to top approach. Christian leaders and all believers will definitely benefit from this invaluable contribution. With the language appealing to both academics and non-academics, the book is a compulsory read.
Research Associate-Leaders for Africa Network (LAN), a Pan African think tank, Harare, Zimbabwe. Author of Family and Religious Studies, and History textbooks respectively.
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Author, historian & columnist