Zimbabwe has some of the richest pastors in the world who made their money by preaching the gospel of prosperity. Music has become an effective discourse for hegemonic constructions of the current social order. From the Norient book Seismographic Sounds (see and order here).
Like many Third World countries, Zimbabwe has experienced an unprecedented increase in the number of evangelical churches preaching the gospel of prosperity, particularly at the beginning of the new century. According to David Bishau’s essay «The Prosperity of the Gospel» (2013), what is preached is also known as the «the health and wealth» gospel. These prosperity gospel churches are mainly led by youthful, charismatic, and flamboyant pastors (prophets) who promise their congregants redemption and material prosperity. They use the gospel as a tool for fighting poverty which is regarded as a barrier to «living a full Christian life.» Inevitably their message has struck a chord with many poor people (and the rich who want to increase their wealth) in Zimbabwe against the backdrop of the more than decade-long economic crisis. According to the prosperity gospel, poverty is a curse from God and tithing or giving is revered. That makes—as they say—perfect sense because the Bible teaches us to give so that we receive. It is common to see congregants being classified according to the amounts that they give. Those who give more occupy a special position (both literally and metaphorically) in the church. However, the prosperity gospel has been received with mixed feelings; some argue that it is the solution to the growing poverty, while others accuse prosperity gospel churches of exploiting the vulnerable in a society that dreams of becoming rich. In «The Curse of Prosperity Gospel» (published in the Zimbabwean newspaper The Herald 2015) Wafawarova argues that:
«Today’s prosperity gospel fuels greed, it focuses in getting as opposed to giving. It is a selfish materialistic faith with a veneer of Christianity. […] It is an elaborate scam meant to railroad unsuspecting followers into parting with the little hard-earned cash at their disposal. […] It is like greed is now officially preached from the pulpit, and the disgusting phenomenon has spread into a cancerous pandemic in what are supposed to be God’s churches.»
This view projects prosperity gospel churches as commercial enterprises for enriching the unscrupulous church leaders rather than institutions fighting poverty among the poor. Critics also accuse prosperity gospel churches of moral bankruptcy in that they make bizarre promises to their congregants. There have been press reports where pastors promise their congregants «miracle money» will be in their bank accounts. David Bishau refers to a newspaper report on a woman who went shopping with leaves as «money» because she had been made to believe that the leaves could be converted to currency. There is a general perception that the only people who have benefited from these prosperity gospel enterprises are a few of its pastors. Some of them made it to the list of the «Richest Pastors in the World» or the «Richest People in Zimbabwe» on NehandaRadio.com.
This article examines the interventions of music in vocalizing the daily struggles and existential reality of ordinary Zimbabweans against the backdrop of the lavish lifestyles of the prosperity gospel pastors, and uses a discourse on money as a lens for this analysis. Material for this study is drawn from the lyrics of a video produced by a satirical musical group, Even Mo Li Little Swaggery, led by famous Zimbabwean stand-up comedian, Farai Sam Monroe aka Comrade Fastso (interview with Farai Monroe, May 26th, 2015). Monroe describes his musical group as «a fake wannabe hip hop group» denoting its satirical approach.
A Counter-Hegemonic Discourse
The video «Cash Moni» (satirically pronounced in a West African accent) lampoons the predatory tendencies of prosperity gospel churches. According to Farai:
«The song has very much to do with religion in Zimbabwe, particularly the gospel of prosperity. We realized that people are often attracted to church expecting to prosper, but at the end of the day we have pastors who exploit their congregation and make loads of money. We are singing sarcastically and jokingly about how it’s a great idea to become a pastor and make money for ourselves and our families-so the running theme is about how in such desperate times in Zimbabwe one available job that you can do is become a pastor and make money.»
Given the popularity of prosperity gospel churches in Zimbabwe and because they exploit people’s gullibility by promising them heaven on Earth, it is not surprising that they have become objects of lyrical banter. «Cash Moni» turns the logic of the prosperity gospel on its head by suggesting that when people go to church they expect to make money but end up parting with the little they have. The song says:
I need cash moni
I am embarrassed when the collector begins collecting
Pastor says if you are poor it is because of your sins
But I have been good
So please give me money
I pray to the biggest Lord
The most strength
For wealth of the spirit and the soul and for real cash
Like seven and half grand
I am going to be a Deacon
Angry for money collection
A Soundboard for Moral Change
The song thus projects prosperity gospel churches as exploitative enterprises meant to enrich the few. The reference to people who fail each other to become Deacons so that they can collect money exposes the avarice of this religious elite. Although the rich also get fleeced by these churches, foregrounding the poor as victims is a discursive strategy that exposes the moral bankruptcy of these churches. Because the church is perceived to be more lucrative than any other endeavor, everybody now wishes to be a pastor. To buttress this theme the song goes:
Me a grow up in poverty
But me want de money
Me try be an engineer
Me try be a carpenter
Me try as a waiter
In a pizzeria with a margherita
And a sicliana with an anchovie
But me forget me story
Yeah me want de money
Want de cheddar so me become a pastor
Not a rock star yes a pastor
«Cash Moni» alludes to the unfulfilled aspirations of many citizens in the context of the Zimbabwean crisis. It is not surprising that prosperity gospel churches such as Emmanual Makandiwa’s the United Family International Church (UFIC), Prophet Eubert Angels’s Spirit Embassy Church, and Walter Magaya’s Prophetic Healing and Deliverance (PHD) church are drawing huge crowds to their Sunday services. However, some critics have questioned the authenticity of their doctrines in the face of widening socio-economic inequalities. The video «Cash Moni» is one example of a social critique.
Through his music video titled «Amen» Ghanaian afro beat musician Yaa Pono, aka «The Pidgin Prince,» unmasks the hypocrisy of pastors who preach what they don’t practice. In «Amen» Yaa Pono lampoons a pastor who taunts the ghetto youth for wanting to make easy money and for indulging in immoral behavior while he himself makes easy money through the church and eyes skimpily dressed ladies in a nightclub; thus, the video exposes the duplicity of the pastor’s sermon. This example demonstrates that the issues raised by these youthful African musicians qualifies them to be soundboards for moral change on the continent.
In this article, I have argued that music can act as a counter-hegemonic tool for questioning the lopsided power relations in contemporary Zimbabwe, a country where the poor are at the mercy of the powerful and the rich become richer while the poor become poorer. For me, these acts demonstrate that constructions of Zimbabwean contemporary social reality by the religious elite are not invincible, but can be deconstructed and reconstructed again.
This text was published first in the second Norient book «Seismographic Sounds». Click on the image to know more.