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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, a law that criminalizes purporting to practice witchcraft and accusing persons of practicing witchcraft reportedly was viewed as restrictive by some practitioners of indigenous religions.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relations between the various religious communities contributed to religious freedom. The Government and the religious communities historically have had good relations.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 240,122 square miles, and its population is estimated at 11,342,521. Between 60 and 70 percent of the population belong to the mainstream Christian denominations, with between 2 and 3 million persons identifying themselves as Roman Catholic. There are no reliable statistics on the exact number of Christian churches or religious movements in the country. The evangelical denominations, mostly Pentecostal churches, and Apostolic groups are the fastest growing religious groups in the country. They appeal to large numbers of disillusioned members from the established churches who reportedly are attracted by promises of miracles and messages of hope at a time of social and economic stress. There is a small Muslim population in the country, estimated at less than 1 percent. The remainder of the population consists of practitioners of Greek Orthodoxy, Jews, practitioners of traditional indigenous religions and indigenous syncretistic religions that mix Christianity and traditional African culture and beliefs, and a small number of Hindus, Buddhists, Baha'is, and atheists.

The dominance of Christianity dates to the early contact of Portuguese traders and Jesuit priests with Africans in the region in the late 1500's. The Jesuits established churches and educational institutions in the Zambezi Valley at that time. Several centuries later, Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Dutch Reformed, and Salvation Army missionaries began to compete aggressively for territorial and spiritual monopolies throughout the country, resulting in "areas of interest" for each of these churches. As a result, many persons identify with the Christian denomination that has had the longest historical connection to their area. President Robert Mugabe is a Roman Catholic who professes to practice his faith actively, and many of those who make up the elite of society tend to be associated with one of the established Christian churches, especially the Anglican and Methodist churches.

Due to the country's colonial and apartheid-like history, the vast majority of the country's black population was prevented from attending government schools, which were restricted to white students. Christian mission schools taught the few blacks who were able to obtain a formal education. Consequently the vast majority of the country's liberation war leadership, who later became the Government's senior officials, were trained by Christian educators.

The Muslim community consists primarily of South Asian immigrants (Indian and Pakistani), migrants from other southern and eastern African countries (Mozambique and Malawi), and a very small number of North African and Middle Eastern immigrants. There are mosques located in several large urban areas, and there are a small number of mosques in rural areas. There are 12 mosques in the capital Harare. The Muslim community generally has been very insular; however, in recent years, the Islamic community has begun proselytizing among the majority black indigenous population with increasing success.

A variety of indigenous churches and groups have emerged from the mainstream Christian churches over the years. Some, such as the Zimbabwe Assembly of God (ZAOG), continue to adhere strictly to Christian beliefs; in fact, they oppose the espousal of traditional religions. Other indigenous groups, such as the Seven Apostles, combine elements of established Christian beliefs with some beliefs based on traditional African culture and religion. These latter groups tend to be centered on a prophetic figure, with members of the congregation identifying themselves as "apostles." These church members wear long white robes and head coverings. Many of these churches date from the early 1920's, when there was widespread racial and religious segregation. Many of the founders of African indigenous churches broke away from Christian missionary churches, and some of their teachings incorporate what has become known as "black consciousness." To a large extent, these churches grew out of the Christian churches' failure to adapt to traditional African culture and religion. These indigenous churches have proliferated as a result of splits among the followers of the different "prophets."

Many persons continue to believe, in varying degrees, in traditional indigenous religions. These persons may attend worship in a westernized Christian church on Sundays but consult with traditional healers during the week. Belief in traditional healers spans both the rural and urban areas. Traditional healers are very common and are licensed and regulated by the Zimbabwe National African Traditional Healers' Association (ZINATHA). Traditional indigenous religions remain rooted deeply.

Foreign missionaries operate in the country, including the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, a law that criminalizes both purporting to practice witchcraft and accusing persons of practicing witchcraft reportedly was viewed as restrictive by some practitioners of indigenous religions. There is no state religion. The Government generally recognizes all religions.

The Government does not require religious institutions to be registered. Religious organizations that operate schools or medical facilities are required to register those specific institutions with the appropriate ministry regulating those areas. Similarly, religious institutions may apply for tax-exempt status and duty-free privileges with the Customs Department, which generally grants such requests.

The Government permits religious education in private schools. There are Islamic and Hebrew primary and secondary schools in the major urban areas, primarily Harare and Bulawayo. In addition there are several institutions of higher education that include religious studies as a core component of the curriculum. There are two such institutions in Harare--the Catholic University and Arrupe College. There is a Methodist institution in Mutare--the Africa University, and a Seventh-Day Adventist college in Matebeleland. The state-supported University of Zimbabwe also has a Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy, which has a multidenominational curriculum and faculty. All these institutions have a religiously mixed student body. In addition there are some non-degree awarding institutions, such as teacher training colleges, that also focus on religious studies.

Christian missions provided the first hospitals to care for black citizens. There are 123 hospitals and clinics in the country that fall under the Zimbabwe Association of Christian Hospitals, an association that consists of largely mainstream Christian churches. The individual churches are the predominant source of funding for maintaining these hospitals because of the Government's increasing inability to provide essential services. The Government does provide small subsidies to facilitate the hospitals' functions, but these make up only a small percentage of the hospitals' operating budgets.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Witchcraft--widely understood to encompass attempts to harm others not only by magic but also by covert means of established efficacy such as poisons--traditionally has been a common explanation for diseases of which the causes were unknown. Although traditional indigenous religions generally include or accommodate belief in the efficacy of witchcraft, they generally approve of harmful witchcraft only for defensive or retaliatory purposes and purport to offer protection against it. In recent years, interest in healing through traditional religion and through prayer reportedly has increased as HIV/AIDS has infected an estimated one-fourth of the adult population, and affordable science-based medicines effective in treating HIV/AIDS have remained unavailable.

The 1890 Witchcraft Suppression Act (WSA), as amended in 1989, criminalizes purporting to practice witchcraft, accusing persons of practicing witchcraft, hunting witches, and soliciting persons to name witches; penalties include imprisonment for up to 7 years. The law defines witchcraft as "the use of charms and any other means or devices adopted in the practice of sorcery," and provides punishments for intending to cause disease or injury to any person or animal through the use of witchcraft. Since 1997 ZINATHA has proposed amendments to the 1989 law that would redefine witchcraft only as the practice of sorcery with the intent to cause harm, including illness, injury, or death; however, mainstream Christian churches reportedly have opposed such legislation. Human rights groups also generally supported the existing WSA; the Act has been used since independence primarily to protect persons, primarily women, who have been accused falsely of causing harm to persons or crops in rural areas where traditional religious practices are strong.

There is some tension between the Government and some indigenous African churches because of the latter's preference for prayer over science-based medical practices that result in the reduction of avoidable childhood diseases and deaths in those communities. Some members of the indigenous churches and groups believe in healing through prayer only and refuse to have their children vaccinated. The Ministry of Health has had limited success in vaccinating children against communicable childhood diseases in these religious communities. Human rights activists also have criticized these indigenous churches for their sanctioning of marriages of underage girls.

President Mugabe has expressed skepticism about the increasing membership in evangelical and indigenous churches and has indicated that he believes that they could be subversive. According to press reporting, he has refused to meet with bishops from indigenous churches since 1997.

The Government maintains a monopoly on television broadcasting through the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), despite a broadcasting law passed in 2001 that permits one independent television broadcaster but imposes stringent licensing requirements. The Government permits limited religious broadcasting on ZBC and advertising in the government-controlled press by the older, established Christian churches, as well as new evangelical churches and institutions, such as The 700 Club and World Vision. Programming produced by the U.S.-based Christian Broadcasting Network is shown on ZBC. The Government generally follows the recommendations of the Religious Advisory Board, an umbrella grouping of Christian denominations, on appropriate religious material to broadcast. Muslims, who are not represented on the board, approached the advisory board about obtaining access to airtime. The Roman Catholic chairman of the board is not opposed to recommending that Muslims be given airtime commensurate with their numbers in the country, so long as other religions are not denigrated in the material presented. However, the chairman acknowledged that other evangelical church groups are more hostile to Islam and are unlikely to support the inclusion of Islamic programming in the already limited religious broadcasting block. While ZBC officials with whom the chairman raised this issue in the past had indicated informally that Islamic religious material would be included on ZBC, none had been broadcast by the end of the period covered by this report. The chairman of the Religious Advisory Board believes that this is because Muslims represent too small of a percentage of society to take up minimal religious airtime or to merit membership on the advisory board.

In the last few years, due to inadequate resources, the Government has returned several former church schools that it had taken over at independence to their respective churches. The Government has returned nearly all of the secondary schools and a few of the primary schools that it seized from the churches after independence. Most former church schools that the Government still controls are used as primary schools in the rural areas. The country has had a long history of Catholic, Anglican, and Methodist primary and secondary schools. Since independence there also has been a proliferation of evangelical basic education schools. The Christian schools constitute one-third of the schools in the country, with the Catholic Church having the majority.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

The Government and government supporters targeted some clergymen because they strongly criticized the state-sanctioned, politically motivated crimes and violence during the period prior to the June 2000 parliamentary elections and urged the Government to restore peace in the country (see Section III). In March 2001, authorities ordered Paul Andrianatos, an Anglican priest with South African citizenship, to leave the country days after he had made anti-government remarks at the funeral of slain white farmer Gloria Olds. Andrianatos had presided over the funeral of Olds' son Martin, who also was killed by alleged ruling party supporters in April 2000 (see Section III).

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There are generally amicable relations among the various religious communities. The Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Baha'i, and Buddhist religious communities are relatively small and generally are not in competition with Christian denominations for converts. Catholic Church officials say they welcome interfaith dialog with Muslims. Some of the evangelical churches have fought attempts by some Muslims to require the selling of "halaal," or kosher, meat at non-Muslim shops.

There are at least four umbrella religious organizations primarily focused on interdenominational dialog among Christians and other interreligious activities. However, Muslims are not represented in any of these organizations, and there is no vehicle for formal Christian-Muslim dialog. Muslims have complained of discrimination by private employers who refuse to allow them sufficient time to worship at their mosques on Fridays.

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) is an umbrella organization of all non-Catholic ecumenical Christian missionary churches except for evangelical organizations. It maintains a secretariat in Harare, conducts development programs, has a Justice and Peace desk, and collaborates with the much older Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP). The Catholic Church and the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference have observer status within the ZCC, and relations generally are cooperative. Some members of the Christian community are hesitant to support Catholics joining the ZCC because of memories of the inability of religious leaders to work together during the liberation war era, and they fear a repeat of that experience. The ZCC also has worked with other church groups and civil society organizations on social issues. The ZCC initially provided a secretariat for the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a respected nongovernmental organization formed to create a new constitution. After a 2-year collaboration, the ZCC withdrew from the NCA over political direction and leadership style differences, although individual churches subsequently rejoined. The ZCC generally is seen as supportive of President Mugabe and does not criticize the President or his Government frequently. However, a rift between the ZCC and the Government emerged when the ZCC and NCA tried to bring together the different parties working on election issues and the Government refused to participate, branding the ZCC as the enemy. Members of the Government resent the ZCC for its role in helping establish the NCA.

The Heads of Denominations (HOD) is a pragmatic association of Catholic and other Christian denominations that has no spiritual or theological emphasis. It was created to enable collaboration among Christian groups and the Government in the operation of religious schools and hospitals. The HOD provides a vehicle for Christian churches to speak to the Government with a common voice on policy issues and includes the Catholic Church, which operates a significant number of the rural hospitals and schools in the country. The HOD has a loose structure and no office. The HOD's secretarial support is provided by the general secretariat of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference (ZCBC), and its secretary general holds the same position in the ZCBC. The education secretaries of the various churches work together under the HOD, as does the religious advisory board to the ZBC. This broad grouping of churches under the HOD also collaborate on a wide range of social issues including HIV/AIDS education and, in conjunction with the ZCC, the Christian churches have addressed the declining economic conditions affecting their members across the country. The HOD continues to deliberate over the role religious institutions should play in combating the HIV/AIDS crisis. Many churches already operate programs designed to help the victims of HIV/AIDS; for example, the Catholic Church and other religious and lay persons operate a center for persons infected with HIV/AIDS called "Mashambanzou" in Harare.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ) is an umbrella organization of loosely affiliated evangelical churches that was established in the early 1980's. The fellowship has observer status with the HOD but does not work closely with either the ZCC or Catholic Church. However, the evangelical and Catholic churches do collaborate in the broadcasting of religious programs.

Fambidzano, which means "walking together," is a relatively new grouping of indigenous churches. A South African Dutch Reformed Church theologian and social anthropologist, Inus Daneel, who has researched these churches in South Africa and Zimbabwe, founded the organization in the mid-1970's. Fambidzano was created to give the leaders of these churches more theological and biblical education, according to Daneel. There is little dialog between Fambidzano and the Catholic Church; however, the two organizations are discussing the need to work with the indigenous churches to which many persons are turning because of their emphasis on physical healing and spiritual salvation.

ZINATHA is an organization that represents traditional indigenous religions. The head of that organization is a university professor and vocal Anglican who is working to increase interreligious dialog between ZINATHA and mainstream Christian churches.

One area of ecumenical collaboration has been translation of the Bible into the majority language, Shona. Several priests and ministers have worked on this project since 1987.

There were reports of growing tensions between mainstream Christian churches and practitioners of traditional indigenous religions. A notable feature of some of the indigenous churches is the acceptance of polygamy among some of its members. Sexual abuse, the spread of HIV/AIDS, and the avoidance of modern medicines also are growing problems within these churches. In addition leaders of the Christian churches reportedly opposed the repeal or modification of the Witchcraft Suppression Act sought by practitioners of traditional indigenous religions. In previous years, several leaders of Christian churches reportedly criticized a perceived increase in "Satanism" in the country. Acts of Satanism allegedly included drinking human blood and eating human flesh; however, there were no reports of such activity during the period covered by this report.

Unlike in the previous reporting period, there were no reports of ritual murders associated with traditional religious practices, and the Government generally enforces the law against murder in the case of ritual murders. Gordon Chavanduka, chairman of ZINATHA reportedly has stated that the black-market demand for human body parts used in making potions has increased greatly in recent years. Some observers suggested that this development might be associated with the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country, and the lack of affordable science-based medicines for treating infected persons. In previous reporting periods, there were reports that persons killed children for body parts for use in practicing healing rituals associated with traditional religions. In July 1999, Faber Chidarikire, a Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front official and mayor of the northern town of Chinhoyi, was charged with murdering a 13-year-old girl in 1987, but he was released on bail shortly thereafter following intervention by the Attorney General; there were reports that Chidarikire cut off the girl's ear and excised her genitals. Chidarikire was tried for the murder of the 13-year-old girl in June 2001; however, after the trial, a judgment in the case was deferred. In a separate case in 1995, an examination of a severed head found in Chidarikire's car in 1994 indicated that it had been severed with a blade, not in a car accident as Chidarikire had maintained.

Several key church leaders and organizations strongly criticized the state-sanctioned, politically motivated crimes and violence during the period prior to the June 2000 parliamentary elections and urged the Government to restore peace in the country. Since the elections, church groups throughout the country gradually have become more vocal in their criticism of the Government for the continuation of politically motivated violence. In an unusual public statement on May 3, 2001, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference criticized the Government for allowing war veterans to conduct a campaign of urban intimidation and called on the Government to restore the rule of law. The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans' Association responded by warning the bishops to "mind their own business" or face unspecified consequences. In 2000 a Catholic clergyman, Father Fidelis Mukonori, publicly engaged in an effort to find a negotiated solution to the occupation of commercial farms by war veterans, and he helped facilitate meetings between both sides and with President Mugabe. In late 2000, Pius Ncube, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, fled to Germany after receiving numerous death threats for writing public letters accusing the Government of fueling political violence and urging citizens to exercise their right to vote. In April 2000, Anglican priest Tim Neil of Harare publicly chastised President Mugabe for condoning commercial farm invasions. Father Neil distributed pamphlets at his Harare parish that questioned the President's legitimacy to remain in office in light of the chaos he said that Mugabe had caused in the country. Father Neil subsequently received a death threat letter signed by Ngonidzashe Mutasa, the secretary general of the Revival of African Conscience, a previously unknown organization with no established following or platform. The police later apprehended Mutasa, and his case was pending at the end of the period covered by this report.

Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that government supporters attacked church workers whom they suspected of opposition support; however, in early 2001, government supporters threatened clinic workers at the St. Alberts Mission in Mashonaland Central province with violence if they continued to treat opposition supporters. Also in early 2001, a nun in Manicaland province was forced into hiding after receiving threats for failing to treat ruling party supporters fairly.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government supports religious and other constitutionally protected freedoms through demarches to the Government, nondenominational financial support for community development projects, which often are associated with religious institutions, and regular dialog with and support for civil society organizations that advocate and monitor respect for human rights, including freedom of religion.

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