U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2005 - Zimbabwe

Covers the period from July 1, 2004, to June 30, 2005

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

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 Government and the religious communities historically have had good relations; however, the Government continued to be critical of and harass religious leaders who spoke out against the Government's ongoing campaign of violent intimidation against perceived opponents. Church leaders and members who criticized the Government faced arrest and detention.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. An interfaith council, formed in 2004, seeks to build closer ties between believers of different faiths.

Through publication and dissemination of the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, the Human Rights Report and other statements, and through engagement with civil society, the U.S. Government shared its position on religious freedom to the Government and public.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 150,760 square miles, and its population is approximately 12.7 million. Between 60 and 70 percent of the population belongs to the mainstream Christian denominations, with 17 to 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. The evangelical denominations, mostly Pentecostal churches and Apostolic groups, are the fastest growing religious groups. An estimated 1 percent of the total population is Muslim. The remainder of the population includes practitioners of Greek Orthodoxy, Judaism, 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.

President Robert Mugabe is a Roman Catholic who professes to practice his faith actively, and many elites tend to be associated with one of the established Christian churches, especially the Anglican and Methodist churches.

The Muslim community consists primarily of South Asian immigrants (Indian and Pakistani), a small but growing number of indigenous Zimbabweans, migrants from other southern and eastern African countries (including 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. There are 18 in the capital city of Harare, 8 in Bulawayo, and a number of mosques in rural areas. The Muslim community has expanded its outreach efforts with the aid of the Kuwaiti-sponsored African Muslim Agency (AMA); the Harare AMA office has had increased success proselytizing among the majority black indigenous population, in part because of its humanitarian projects in rural areas. Some chiefs and headmen in the rural areas have reportedly converted from Christianity to Islam.

A variety of local churches and groups have emerged from the mainstream Christian churches over the years. Some, such as the Zimbabwe Assembly of God, continue to adhere strictly to Christian beliefs and oppose the espousal of traditional religions. Other local groups, such as the Seven Apostles, combine elements of established Christian beliefs with some beliefs based on traditional African culture and religion. These groups tend to be centered on a prophetic figure, with members of the congregation identifying themselves as apostles. Many of these churches date from the early 1920s, when there was widespread racial and religious segregation. Many of the founders of African churches broke away from Christian missionary churches when those churches chose not to incorporate traditional African culture and religion. The local churches have proliferated as a result of splits among followers of different founders.

Many persons continue to believe, to varying degrees, in traditional indigenous religions. These persons may worship in a westernized Christian church on Sundays but consult with traditional healers during the week. Traditional healers are very common in both rural and urban areas and are licensed and regulated by the Zimbabwe National African Traditional Healers' Association (ZINATHA). ZINATHA has approximately 55,000 members.

Foreign missionaries operated, including members of 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, some practitioners of indigenous religions reportedly viewed as restrictive a law that criminalizes purporting to practice witchcraft or accusing persons of practicing witchcraft. There is no state religion, and 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 their activities. 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, Hindu, 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. Christian schools constitute one-third of the schools in the country; the majority are Catholic. In addition, there are several institutions of higher education that include religious studies as a core component of the curriculum.

Christmas and Easter are national holidays.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, passed in November 2004, incorporated the previous Witchcraft Suppression Act (WSA), which criminalized purporting to practice witchcraft, accusing persons of practicing witchcraft, hunting witches, and soliciting persons to name witches. The new Act removes the prohibitions on witch hunting and accusing another person of being a witch. The law defines witchcraft as "the use of charms and any other means or devices adopted in the practice of sorcery," and it provides punishments for intending to cause disease or injury to any person or animal through the use of witchcraft. The WSA has been used since independence primarily to protect persons, mainly women, who have been accused falsely of causing harm to persons or crops in rural areas where traditional religious practices are strong.

There was some tension between the Government and some indigenous African churches because of the preference of the latter for prayer over the science-based medical practices that have reduced avoidable childhood diseases and deaths in those communities. Some members of indigenous churches and groups believed in healing through prayer only and refused to have their children vaccinated. The Ministry of Health has had limited success in vaccinating children against communicable childhood diseases in these religious communities.

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 reports, he has refused to meet with bishops from indigenous churches since 1997.

The Government maintained a monopoly on television broadcasting through the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). The Government permitted 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. The Government generally followed the recommendations of the Religious Advisory Board, an umbrella group of Christian denominations, on appropriate religious material to broadcast. Muslims, who were not represented on the board, have approached the board about obtaining access to airtime. According to the board, Muslims represent too small a percentage of society to take up limited religious airtime or to merit membership on the board. Other evangelical church groups have generally opposed the inclusion of Islamic programming. However, during the period covered by this report, Muslims occasionally were allowed to conduct the daily opening prayer on ZBC. Local radio has given non-Christian religions airtime during the 5:05 a.m. broadcast of the religious hour.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

During the period covered by this report, church leaders and members who criticized the Government continued to face intimidation, arrest, and detention by government officials. Foreign critics faced possible deportation.

The Government's "Operation Restore Order" mandates the destruction of purportedly illegal structures, including some places of worship and charities run by religious organizations. For example, on June 14, 2005, police in the Hatcliffe Extension high-density suburb tore down a community mosque. According to available information, the local Muslim community was informed of the impending destruction beforehand and given an opportunity to remove religious articles and other items prior to the demolition. The mosque served approximately 100 families in the area.

On June 2 the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference issued a press statement condemning Operation Restore Order and calling for government authorities to halt the destruction. The statement asserted that history would hold those involved individually responsible for violating the dignity and human rights of those affected. Despite government interference, religious organizations have been active in aiding the victims of the operation.

On April 1, police detained 200 women associated with Women of Zimbabwe Arise who were preparing for an all-night prayer vigil to be held while awaiting election results. Several protesters were treated for injuries sustained in the arrest and some were hospitalized.

On March 12, political supporters of ZANU-PF Parliamentary candidate Sydney Sekeramayi torched a church building in the Marondera East constituency. The building was constructed in part with funds provided by MDC candidate Ian Kay.

In March 2004, Reverend Noel Scott, a Northern Ireland clergyman who has been a missionary in Bulawayo for more than 30 years, received a summons to stand trial for breaching the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) by disobeying a police officer. The charges stemmed from a 2002 incident during the run-up to presidential elections when Scott and three other church leaders were arrested for holding a street prayer meeting. By the end of the period covered by this report, no trial had been conducted.

Also in March 2004, the Government charged the Catholic diocese of Hwange and the Catholic Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo for allegedly exchanging foreign currency illegally. Observers suggested that the charges were intended to put pressure on the Church to desist from criticizing the Mugabe regime. The matter was settled out of court.

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.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relations among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. The Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Baha'i, and Buddhist religious communities are relatively small, and generally are not in open competition with Christian denominations for converts. Catholic Church officials say that they welcome interfaith dialogue with Muslims.

Muslims complained of discrimination by private employers who refuse to allow them sufficient time to worship at their mosques on Fridays.

There are at least four umbrella religious organizations primarily focused on interdenominational dialogue among Christians and other interreligious activities. Muslims are not represented in any of these organizations; however, there is a new interfaith council which seeks to bring together practitioners of various faiths. 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. However, during the period covered by this report, they agreed to consider the applications of 72 evangelical churches. 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. The Catholic Church and the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference have observer status within the ZCC, and relations generally are cooperative. 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 as a result of the Government's politicization of food distribution and campaign of violent intimidation against opposition supporters.

The Heads of Denominations (HOD) is a pragmatic association of 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. It includes the Catholic Church, which operates a significant number of the rural hospitals and schools. The broad grouping of churches under the HOD also collaborates on a wide range of social issues including HIV/AIDS education. In conjunction with the ZCC, the Christian churches have addressed the declining economic conditions affecting their members. 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 laypersons operate a center in Harare, called Mashambanzou, for orphans infected with HIV/AIDS.

Since mid-2003, several prominent evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Protestant bishops have collaborated in an attempt to bring the ruling and opposition parties back to the negotiating table to restart dialogue aimed at resolving the political crisis.

Fambidzano, which means "walking together," is a grouping of indigenous churches. It was created to give the leaders of these churches more theological and biblical education. There is little dialogue 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 dialogue between ZINATHA and mainstream Christian churches.

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 reportedly are 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.

Witchcraft is widely understood to encompass attempts to harm others, not only by magic but also by covert means of established efficacy such as poisons. Traditionally, witchcraft has been a common explanation for diseases of which the causes were unknown. Although traditional indigenous religions often 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-quarter of the adult population, and affordable medicines effective in treating HIV/AIDS have remained unavailable to many.

In 2004, there were two reports of possible ritual killings associated with traditional religious practices. The first was an 11-year-old girl who went missing in February and whose skull was found in June in a sugar cane field. The second was a mutilated 6-year-old girl with several body parts missing, who was found in July, a week after she was reported missing. 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.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

Through publication and dissemination of the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, Human Rights Report and other statements, and through engagement with civil society, the U.S. Government shared its position on religious freedom with the Government and public.

The U.S. Government has regular dialogue with and supports 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.


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