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.
The status of respect for religious freedom deteriorated during the period covered by this report. The Government and the religious communities historically have had good relations; however, the Government increasingly became critical of and harassed religious leaders who spoke out against the Government's ongoing campaign of violent intimidation against opposition supporters. Church leaders and members who criticized the Government faced arrest and deportation.
The generally amicable relations between the various religious communities contributed to religious freedom.
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 17 and 27 percent of the population 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 1 percent. The remainder of the population consists of practitioners of Greek Orthodoxy, Judaism, and traditional indigenous religions and indigenous syncretistic religions that mix Christianity and traditional African culture and beliefs; there also are small numbers 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 nearly all of the larger towns, and there are a number of mosques in rural areas. There are 18 mosques in the capital Harare and 8 in Bulawayo. The Muslim community generally has been somewhat insular; however, in the past several years, the Islamic community has proselytized among the majority black indigenous population with increasing success, and it has expanded its outreach efforts.
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).
Foreign missionaries operate in the country, including members of the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
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. 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. In addition there are several institutions of higher education that include religious studies as a core component of the curriculum.
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 largely of 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 the past several years, interest in healing through traditional religion and through prayer reportedly has increased as HIV/AIDS has infected an estimated one-third of the adult population, and affordable science-based medicines effective in treating HIV/AIDS have remained unavailable.
The Witchcraft Suppression Act (WSA) 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 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. In March 2002, the Traditional Medical Practitioners Council, formed from members of ZINATHA to oversee traditional healers, called for amendments to the WSA that would authenticate the existence of witches and wizards and remove penalties for accusing persons of practicing witchcraft.
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, have approached the advisory board about obtaining access to airtime. The chairman of the Religious Advisory Board believes that Muslims represent too small of a percentage of society to take up minimal religious airtime or to merit membership on the advisory board. 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. However, during the period covered by this report, Muslims were allowed to conduct the daily opening prayer on ZBC once or twice per week. In addition the Council of Islamic Scholars of Zimbabwe sponsored the publication of two supplements in the government-owned Sunday Mail newspaper that sought to educate readers about the Islamic faith.
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.
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 2000 parliamentary elections and the March 2002 presidential election and urged the Government to restore peace in the country (see Section III). Church leaders and members who criticized the Government faced arrest and deportation. On February 16, 2002, police arrested Father Kevin O'Doherty and eight others participating in a prayer processional to police headquarters in Bulawayo. They were charged with contravening the newly-passed Public Order and Security Act, but the charges later were dropped.
During the 2002 presidential election campaign, the state-controlled daily newspaper in Bulawayo printed false accusations against Archbishop Ncube, including that he distributed sexually explicit material to prisoners, following his remarks criticizing the Government's violent campaign tactics. At a campaign rally in February 2002, President Mugabe claimed Ncube had "political tentacles" and supported the opposition after the Archbishop resisted government attempts to take over the Catholic-run St. Luke's hospital.
In August 2001, Gabriel McGuire, an Irish Catholic priest in Harare, was declared a prohibited person and deported. No official reason was given; however, church members speculated that the Government took exception to his sermons in which he made generic statements about citizens' "right to have a voice." Paul Andrianatos, a Greek Orthodox priest with South African citizenship who was ordered to leave the country in March 2001, remained outside the country at the end of the period covered by this report.
In late May 2002, local government minister Ignatius Chombo prompted war veterans in Binga district, Matabeleland North province, to close down the food distribution efforts of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), which was the only source of food for many rural residents in the Binga district. Chombo criticized the CCJP for establishing local structures parallel to the Government's structures. War veterans continued to block the food from leaving CCJP's warehouse at the end of the period covered by this report, preventing food deliveries to hospital patients and school children.
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 refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
The generally amicable relations between the various religious communities contributed to religious freedom. 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 that they welcome interfaith dialog with Muslims. In the late 1990's, some of the evangelical churches objected to Muslims giving advice to the government-owned Cold Storage Corporation on how to prepare "halaal," or kosher, meat for export; there were no such reports during the period covered by this report.
There are at least four umbrella religious organizations primarily focused on interdenominational dialog among Christians and other interreligious activities. Muslims are not represented in any of these organizations, and there is no vehicle for formal Christian-Muslim dialog; however, informal dialog occurs from time to time. A few 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 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 traditionally was supportive of President Mugabe, but it has become more critical of the Government's campaign of violent intimidation against opposition supporters.
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.
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.
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. During the period covered by this report, ZINATHA members formed the Traditional Medical Practitioners Council to certify and oversee traditional healers.
There were continuing reports of 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 WSA sought by practitioners of traditional indigenous religions.
There were no reports of ritual murders associated with traditional religious practices during the period covered by this report, 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. There were no reports that persons killed children for body parts for use in practicing healing rituals associated with traditional religions during the period covered by this report. In 1999 Faber Chidarikire, a Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) 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. Chidarikire was tried for the murder of the girl in June 2001; however, after the trial, a judgment in the case was deferred, and there was no judgment by the end of the period covered by this report.
Several key church leaders and organizations strongly criticized the state-sanctioned, politically motivated crimes and violence during the period before and after the March 2002 presidential election and urged the Government to restore peace in the country. Since the 2000 parliamentary 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 a July 30, 2001, address to regional Catholic bishops, President Mugabe stated that the Roman Catholic Church should support the Government's land acquisition program and criticized it for "equivocating in the face of racial injustice." In January 2002, Zimbabwe Council of Churches General-Secretary Denison Mafinyane severely criticized the Government for unleashing a "reign of terror" against innocent citizens. In a May 5, 2002, address to the 10th Synod session of the Anglican Diocese of Manicaland, Bishop Sebastian Bakare criticized politicians who say there is peace in the country when citizens continue to suffer from political violence at the hands of ruling party supporters.
In late 2000 and early 2001, Pius Ncube, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, stayed in Germany for several months 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. The Vatican reportedly demanded that the Government take steps to ensure the Archbishop's safety. In 2000 Anglican priest Tim Neill of Harare 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, who was tried and found guilty in September 2000; however, Mutasa was released in October 2000 under a general presidential amnesty for politically-motivated crimes. Father Neill left the priesthood in July 2001 after the Government forced him to resign as Vicar General of Harare and bypassed canonical law to install Norbert Kunonga, a staunch Mugabe supporter, as Anglican Bishop of Harare. Other priests reportedly have left the diocese because of Kunonga's sermons supporting Mugabe's reelection and the sometimes violent expulsion of mostly white commercial farmers from their land.
In late February 2002, ZANU-PF supporters beat three Catholic priests, two Catholic nuns, and a Catholic brother in Zaka after they met with U.S. officials. The perpetrators said the fact that the religious figures had met with U.S. diplomats suggested they were opposition supporters. Although local ruling party officials later apologized to the victims, the perpetrators were not charged with any crime.
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. The Embassy meets regularly with leaders of religious communities, including minority groups, and with nongovernmental organizations that work on issues of religious freedom.