Tue. Sep 29th, 2020

National Zion Board Ministries

Defending the Ancient City of Zion


The continuing growth of the church

The 1991 census figures (CSS 1992:122) showed that 9,7% of the black population of South Africa who gave their religious affiliation were members of the ZCC, compared to 10,3% in our survey, some fifteen thousand church members in Soshanguve alone. If the official census figures for the ZCC in 1980 are accurate, then this church has experienced phenomenal growth over the past eleven years (300%). They were the biggest single church in Soshanguve in 1991.

We asked members of the church why they were attracted to the ZCC. The answer was often based on appreciation for the ‘Africaness’ of the church. The fact that their church is founded and led by Africans is for some people very important. ZCC members would refer to the African liturgy of the church, especially the ways of singing and dancing. Several of the ZCC respondents said that they preferred this church most of all because it was an ‘African’ church. The church is specifically geared to fulfil African aspirations and meet African needs. One ZCC member gave typical expression to this sentiment when he said the following:

The reason I like being in this church is because it is African. Everything we do in this church – the songs we sing, the way we jump and do things – you don’t feel like a foreigner, you feel like an African.

Sometimes there is evidence of continuity with African traditional ideas, which becomes attractive for some African people searching to find their cultural roots in a rather faceless urban society. Some members of the ZCC said that they were in the church because it was the one revealed to them by an ancestor. The pattern of this type of response was that the respondent or a family member was sick; the ancestor appeared in a dream, and said that if they would go to the church, they would be healed. They followed this instruction, and have remained in the ZCC ever since, often believing that the continuation of their healing is conditional upon their continuing to be members of the church.

For some respondents the rules of the church were important reasons for being there: correct attire such as the wearing of uniforms, the taboos in the church such as the ban on pork, tobacco and alcohol, and the paying of tithes and other church dues. Several ZCC members said that ‘the things that were not supposed to be done’ by church members were the most important teachings in the church, and that they were based on the Bible. Some members said that for them one of the most important things the ZCC did was to encourage young people to go to school and to provide bursaries for them. Other practical things offered in the ZCC such as an insurance scheme were also mentioned in this context. For some members, the ZCC was attractive because it was the ‘biggest church in South Africa’; and a member of the church had dignity and respect with other people. One member said that there was ample opportunity for ZCC members to find work and to be promoted, because they were trusted by Whites. Another ZCC member said that he was in the church because it was a church in which people were at peace with each other, and where love, respect and honesty prevailed. These sentiments express the dignity and sense of self-worth that indigenous churches give to Africans in South Africa who have long been the victims of exploitation and personal affronts to their humanity.

Healing as a growth factor

The main reason people joined the ZCC in its early years was for healing from sickness. Because of the significant number of second generation Christians now in this church, the ongoing healing offered to these members in fact makes healing one of the most important factors in its continued expansion. Almost half (44%) of ZCC members in our survey were second or third generation members of the church, and another 10% had married into the church. Healing still accounted for 15% of the ZCC members joining the church.

People join the ZCC because felt needs are met – and this often means healing from physical sickness and discomfort. People in black townships in South Africa are still largely underprivileged, which means inter alia that efficient medical facilities are for most people scarce and expensive.

Other factors also contributed to the growth of the ZCC. Some of our respondents stressed that the church was able to help them in some way to overcome serious emotional and domestic problems. One informant told of her family being on the verge of divorce. She heard the ‘voice of God’ telling her to go to see a certain ‘man of God’ who would pray for the restoration of her family. She did so, and her marriage was saved. As in the case of healing, the solution to these problems rests largely on the ability of the prophet or church leader to effect a remedy through prayer and faith in the power of God. In our in-depth interviews the issue of healing came across as the most frequently mentioned reason that people were in the Pentecostal-type churches, a higher proportion than was indicated in the statistics. Some respondents were emphatic that healing was the main reason they were in the church. Healing is certainly one of the main activities (if not the main activity) of Pentecostal-type churches. A ZCC man told us that he had been sick for a long time and had tried diviners, medical doctors, and other prophets – all to no avail. Then his father appeared to him in a vision and said that he should go to the ZCC. ‘I went there’, he recalled, ‘they healed me, and that is why I still go there. There is no other church like the ZCC. The others failed to heal me.’ Lukhaimane (1980:63) said that healing was the reason for 80% of Engenas Lekganyane’s followers joining the church. It was ‘a faith healing and a miracle performing church (ke kereke ya Mehlolo)’ (1980:46). A ZCC minister we encountered in our survey told us why he had joined the church:

A friend of mine told how he had been helped by the ZCC when he was sick. Seeing that I was suffering from tuberculosis at the time, I decided to go there. They do not use muti [traditional medicine], and they do not depend on inyangas [traditional healers] and sangomas [diviners]. They just pray for you, give you some tea, and make you vomit using pure water which the prophet has prayed for. This is one of the reasons that I joined them. Six months after I started attending the church I was completely healed. I had been attending the clinic; they had given me tablets for TB. I was taken from one doctor to another and from one hospital to another. The problem was that they could not detect what the problem really was; they were only guessing that I had TB. Then I went to this [ZCC] church which operates under the Spirit of God. They told me that I did not really have TB; but I had the ancestral spirits – that was why I was coughing, choking and gasping for air. They made me to drink some of their tea, and made me vomit. They prophesied over me and gave me the instructions from the ancestors. After obeying all that the ancestors told me, I was told that I was to become a minister in the church. The leaders laid their hands on me, and I stopped coughing. I have not coughed again to this day. I was completely delivered. The whole secret lies in obeying what the ancestors require of you. White people tell us we are suffering from TB because they don’t know anything about the ancestors.

A member of the ZCC in Soshanguve related how she came to join the church, during which process several factors were simultaneously at work. She had suffered from severe headaches for a long time. Then one night she had a dream in which she saw her grandfather coming to her dressed in the khaki uniform, cap and boots of the ZCC. He said that if she wanted help for these problems she should go to Moria (the ZCC headquarters) where she would find a prophet who would pray for her so that she would be healed. She obeyed, and the prophet came up to her and said ‘I saw you in a dream; you are suffering from headaches’. He prayed for her, and she was healed from that day onwards. The prophet told her that if she wanted to stay healed she had to stay in the ZCC for the rest of her life. She considered, however, that the main reason that she was in the ZCC was because it was the church shown to her by the ancestors. At the same time the prophet was exploiting to the full his healing power as an effective method of recruiting a new member for the church.

Prophetic therapy

In the ZCC the prophets are people of immense importance. They are the messengers who hear from God and proclaim his will to people. They are sort of seers, people who have divine power to ‘see’ the revelations of God pertaining to the complaint of the enquirer, especially sicknesses. Like diviners, they are usually expected to ‘see’ the complaints before they are uttered by the sufferers. One of the most common answers given by ZCC members to the question ‘What is a prophet?’ was that the prophet is a person who sees what sickness is troubling you, what is the reason for it, and how it may be healed. One woman had the following expectations of a prophet:

A prophet reveals someone’s problems when you go to him. He will be able to tell me deep secrets about my condition when I am sick. I should therefore not tell him what I am suffering from; he must be able to tell me exactly what I am undergoing and give me the remedy to heal the sickness troubling me.

They are healers par excellence, the ones to whom the faithful must go when they or their loved ones are sick or afflicted in any other way. Many respondents obviously saw this as the primary function of a prophet: ‘The prophet is somebody who helps people when they are sick’, was one response typical of many. Their healing practices are expected to be effective and to actually bring healing to the patients. They are the ones who must pray for and dispense the holy water and other symbolic healing objects as the need arises. They are also people who are expected to give direction and counsel for all kinds of problems. And prophets in a few instances are people who are believed to declare the will of the ancestors.

The prophet is expected to be available to fulfil his prophetic function at any time. Furthermore, in the ZCC the Holy Spirit will descend in an extraordinary way during church services, so that the prophets are anointed to operate then. They will then single out people for prophetic therapy. Their problems will be revealed, and advice given as to what action should or should not be taken. We observed several instances of this procedure. The prophet will usually manifest some sign that the Spirit has taken control; the prophets snorted, cried, whistled, panted, jerked and contorted their bodies in different ways. Some bent over as they walked, wringing their hands behind their backs. Others were completely silent and behaved ‘normally’. The people being singled out were pointed to by the prophet; and they had to then follow. Sometimes the prophet clapped the hands together to get someone’s attention, and then pointed with the hands together in a praying posture. The status or rank of the person being singled out made little difference; a young unmarried woman can command one of the church leaders to follow her to the prophetic enclosure for counsel, and he must follow, as we observed several times.

Prophesying is an essential aspect of the ministry in the ZCC. As Daneel (1988:25) puts it, ‘It is the accepted way in which the Holy Spirit reveals His will for a specific situation’. In this sense it forms part of pastoral care; for the many different problematic situations encountered by African people are brought to the prophets for their assistance. They make known the will of God for a particular situation; and thus through the Holy Spirit they help bring relief. In these churches ‘it is taken for granted that this form of communication between God and man belongs to the essence of Christianity’ (1988:27). Prophets often exert a moral restraint on people. One ZCC respondent, for example, told of how a prophet had revealed that he was stealing from his workplace. He would have to stop immediately, or he would land up in prison, he said. He immediately obeyed.

There were a number of respondents who spoke about these objectionable practices among some prophets of ‘pointing out witches’ – these were regarded as false prophets. In fact, we came across a case which illustrated the possible harmful effects of this particular prophetic practice. Mrs M, a member of the ZCC, told of the day when her daughter was struck on the head by a stone which was thrown by her son. The child was badly hurt. At the time it happened she saw her neighbours, who had been sitting outside, ‘quickly go inside’. After going first to a diviner and then to an Apostolic prophet, she was told that she should visit the ZCC prophets who would help the child. The prophets told her that she must not blame her son for what had happened. The son had been controlled by a power which was not from himself, they said. He had been bewitched by the neighbours, who had sent a tokoloshe (an evil spirit) which had made him angry. She was therefore not to discipline the son, nor shout at him for what had happened. Mrs M said that she did not suspect anything at the time; but when the prophets told her this, she remembered her neighbours’ actions and knew that they were ‘responsible for this work’. One can only surmise that this incident must have caused considerable hard feeling between this woman and her neighbours. It is unlikely that this kind of prophecy by itself can have any therapeutic or counselling value. Had the prophets initiated a process of reconciliation – such as Daneel (1974:307) had observed in Zimbabwe, in which both the afflicted and the ones accused of afflicting were counselled within the church fold – then the prophetic advice may have been the beginning of a truly African solution. Finding the cause of the suffering is very important in this context, and this type of prophetic diagnosis may not always be wrong. The diagnosis may produce a psychological catharsis which may benefit the afflicted in relation to the real fear of witchcraft.

The majority of members of the ZCC believed in the essential value of the prophets in meeting human needs which could not be met elsewhere. To some respondents, the character of the prophets is of utmost importance. One respondent said that one must be absolutely sure that the person praying for symbolic healing objects is a pure, straight person, or it may result in misfortune. Our field worker was told by a ZCC prophet that he needed to receive ongoing therapy from a ‘good’ minister, and not just any minister, to receive healing.

At the ZCC services we attended, we personally participated in prophetic rituals. Our field assistant, Sam Otwang and I were both called into the prophetic enclosure for therapy. On the first occasion a prophet summoned Sam together with six other young men to follow him to the enclosure. Sam and his companions had to kneel down before the prophet, who was an elderly man. They were told that they were all experiencing severe pain in the head and eyes. Four of them, including Sam, were wearing spectacles. The prophet told them that they needed to get water from a spring near Brits to use for the healing of their weak eyes, and that they should get a ‘good’ minister to help them. He then said that some of them were suffering from pains in the legs, particularly in the knees. They had to get sand from a dam to apply to their legs, and should pierce their legs on both sides of the knees with a needle – an ‘injection’ treatment that is sometimes practised in the ZCC. Finally, he said that they should stop eating sugar and salted foods. This caused fatigue and diabetes, and a loss of male virility, he explained. The seven men were then allowed to return to the main service. Apart from the fact that he was wearing spectacles, Sam was not suffering from any of the ailments ‘identified’ by the prophet at the time. The other notable fact was that the prophet did not attempt to give reasons for the sicknesses, as so many other prophets do in their healing sessions. He simply named the sicknesses and their remedies. (The apparent ‘mistaken’ diagnosis will be discussed later).

I was called for prophetic therapy on two occasions. On the first occasion, a man probably in his fifties dressed in the green uniform approached me, indicating that I was to follow him to the enclosure. He proceeded there grunting, snorting and breathing heavily. When we reached there, I was given some paper to kneel on, and he started to prophesy. God wanted to bless me, he said, as I had come to the ZCC ‘because of some problems’. Ramarumo (the present bishop) had directed me there. I had heart palpitations, he said, for which the recipe was to be sprinkled with blessed water and to drink Joko tea. (I did not have heart palpitations). At that point we were interrupted by a senior minister who chided the prophet for having called me out of the main church enclosure. We were visitors, he said, and prophesying to visitors had to be authorised by the leaders. Evidently the prophesying in the ZCC is subject to control by the leadership.

On the second occasion Sam Otwang and I were instructed by a senior minister to accompany him to a senior prophet who would be able to help us. We went to a place near the entrance where the prophet, dressed in a business suit, sprinkled us liberally with blessed water in front and behind, and then gave us each some to drink. Then he lit a roll of paper and waved the smoke around each of us, finally placing the burning paper in our cupped hands. These rituals evidently symbolised purification and protection from evil. During this procedure no words were spoken; and we assumed that the praying had taken place beforehand. Once the rituals were over we were instructed to return to our seats.

The spirit world of African traditional thought constructs in its own cosmology the built-in fears and threats that demand a Christian response. The African Christian prophet attempts to give this response, particularly in the healing sessions, when the nature and the cause of the disease are given at the same time. Diagnostic prophetic activity is probably the most common type of prophecy in the ZCC. An interesting illustration was provided by a ZCC member in Soshanguve. She had been sick; and on visiting a prophet at Moria, she was told that she would keep her healing provided that she remained in the church for the rest of her life. Her family was being troubled by sorcery and by the tokoloshe (an anthropomorphous evil spirit discussed in chapter six). The trouble manifested itself in various ways and at different times. Both the woman and her husband believed themselves to have been poisoned by acquaintances, for they were suffering from stomach ailments described as ‘something moving in our stomachs, something eating us from inside’. At night the children were being visited by a tokoloshe, and the parents were powerless to do anything about it. They visited the diviners, who told them that they had been bewitched and provided them with muti, which did not help them. They then went to the ZCC prophet, who prayed for them. Her husband and she had to drink water blessed by the prophet. Both of them vomited; her husband brought up ‘something that looked like a crab’ and she brought up ‘something like a spider’. The problems with the tokoloshe and the stomach ailments then disappeared. On another occasion this respondent’s daughter was very ill. The parents went to see the prophet, who told them that the girl had been bewitched by another girl at school. The prophet prayed and gave the girl blessed water and a string to tie around her waist; and she was healed.

It appears that the diagnoses given by the prophets are not always accurate, at least in the ZCC. In my case, I was told that I had heart palpitations. It was unclear whether he was referring to heart disease or to a state of stress; but neither was my condition at the time. The field worker was told that he had pains in the legs, which was also not correct. I was uncertain as to how these prophecies were to be evaluated by church members themselves; although it was clear that they took them seriously.

Prophecy and traditional divination

Many of our respondents acknowledged the similarities between the prophet and the traditional diviner. ‘A prophet is a messenger, like a sangoma [diviner]’ said one. Another said the following:

A prophet is like a diviner. He tells you some secrets and things that are going to happen. His task is like a church security guard. If there is going to be some attack on the church members he will tell you beforehand, and will guard against any spirits that will come in the church.

Another showed this basic similarity when she described how she had once visited a diviner. To this woman, a ‘true prophet’ was one who could reveal her sickness supernaturally:

He was supposed to tell me what kind of sickness I was suffering from; but to my surprise, the diviner asked me what was troubling me. I then knew that he was not a true prophet. He did not help me at all.

For some ZCC members the offices of prophet and diviner coalesce; and sometimes the prophet is not only the agent of the Holy Spirit but also of the ancestors. It was clear that many members saw the functions of prophet and diviner as interchangeable. A person who was not baptised would become a diviner; a person through baptism could convert the spirit into the spirit of a prophet. This view was repeated to us many times by ZCC members. One told us that a prophet has the powers of God or of the ancestors (she saw these powers as the same). A person with these powers could use them to function as a diviner at home, and could use the same powers to prophesy in the church. In both cases the person was a channel of God or of the ancestors, telling people what God or the ancestors wanted them to do. The implication was that the ancestors in fact spoke the word of God to people; and there was no perceived contradiction between the two. Another member said that a prophet was a ‘spirit’ in a person which was inherited from his or her ancestors or parents. Not everybody had this spirit; it must be inherited from the parents in order to be available for use. One ZCC member said that a prophet was a person with a gift received ‘from his own ancestors’ enabling him to see things and prophesy ‘by the spirit’. Similarly, it is believed in many cases that people may go to a prophet for healing, and fail to receive it because of disobedience of the ancestors’ instructions. The prophet then gives the word from the ancestors, telling the patients what they need to do in order to be healed. A childless couple, for example, may have failed to do certain traditional things at their wedding, thus incurring the wrath of the ancestors. The prophet will instruct them to perform the necessary traditional rituals, without which they will continue to be childless. One ZCC member told us that he was in his living room one day when he heard a voice telling him to look up at the ceiling. As he did so, he saw a vision of his father weeping, long since deceased. He then went to the prophets to find out what he should do. They advised him to make a ritual killing for his father who was not satisfied with his conduct, because he felt he was being neglected. The prophets in this instance did what any diviner would have done – they played an identical role, at least in the perception of this member. Many ZCC members do reject the ancestor cult; and some refer to ancestors as demon spirits. I have not yet come across evidence of prophetic confrontation in relation to the ancestors; but this does not mean that such confrontation never takes place in the ZCC. The fact that the majority of ZCC members were found to reject the observance of the ancestor cult probably means that the cult has been confronted by at least some leaders and prophets.

Healing practices

There is no doubt that healing from illness has a major role in the life of ZCC members. It forms a prominent part of ZCC liturgy every week; and one cannot visit the ZCC without observing this emphasis and the rituals associated with it. One of the main features of everyday ZCC life is the belief in what Lukhaimane (1980:62) calls ‘faith healing’, which he defines as the use of ‘sanctified papers, khutane (blue cloths on clothes), copper wires, strings which people had to use as protectives or healing instruments. In faith healing people therefore had faith in these “tools” and not in God directly’. ‘Divine healing’, which he defines as healing through the laying on of hands is ‘the ordinary healing method which is common in all the Zionist or Pentecostal churches’ (:63-64). This has a Scriptural precedent (Mark 16:17-18); but it was discontinued on the instructions of Bishop Engenas Lekganyane in 1930 ‘because it was found to be dangerous on the part of the Church’ (:65). Lukhaimane suggests that Lekganyane did not want his ministers to have power to heal by themselves without relying on himself as the source of this power. This proscription seems to have been relaxed in the ZCC in recent years. The laying on of hands, with (sometimes) the anointing with oil is the usual method practised in Pentecostal churches today; and Lukhaimane calls this ‘divine healing’. I find this distinction between ‘faith healing’ and ‘divine healing’ on the part of Lukhaimane, himself a member of the St Engenas ZCC, unconvincing. It is unlikely that the use or non-use of symbols affects the quality of the healing being procured, certainly not in the minds of the people involved in the healing practices. ZCC members are usually unanimous in their affirmation that it is God who ultimately heals, and that without faith in God the symbol is useless. In any case, the ‘laying on of hands’ or the anointing with oil – regarded by most Pentecostals as legitimate and Scriptural healing practices – are most probably themselves as much symbols as is the use of water, a staff or burning paper.

The methods of healing, however, constitute a major departure by the ZCC and other Pentecostal-type indigenous churches from the practices of Pentecostal churches; and in fact, this could be seen as the major difference between them. Most members of Pentecostal mission and independent churches say that symbolic objects are unnecessary, because the power to heal is from God alone. A member of an independent Pentecostal church said that he used to suffer from high blood pressure. His father was a member of an Apostolic church, and the church healers used ropes and blessed water to try to help him. ‘But these things did not help me at all’, he said. Only after I was saved and I had given my life to Jesus Christ was the problem of high blood pressure gone.’

The subject of healing produced a variety of many absorbing responses in the interviews. Most of the members of Pentecostal and Pentecostal-type churches could tell of a time when they or members of their family were healed. It was rather interesting to see how often people would consult medical practitioners, and for what. In the case of indigenous church members a distinction was often made between sickness that was regarded as needing a Western medical specialist, and that which required a more ‘African’ solution, such as a visit to either a prophet or a diviner. Sometimes the prophet was visited rather than the diviner simply because he was seen as being more powerful, and not because there was any inherent difference. Some of our respondents said that a medical doctor was needed when bones were broken and there was clearly something physically wrong. It was then not right to go to the prophet or the diviner, who seemed to be more effective for unseen, internal maladies.

Nevertheless, for members in most indigenous churches the use of these symbols is one of the central and most important features of their church life. The most common symbol used in these churches is that of water, which is ‘blessed’ or prayed for by a bishop or a prophet for use by the congregants, either as a healing potion itself or else in large quantities to induce vomiting, and sometimes mixed with ash. It is only the prayer which makes the water efficacious. As in traditional healing methods, a patient must expel the ‘death’ that is in the stomach to be healed. The vomiting is believed to get rid of not only physical sickness but of spiritual defilement also. The water is seen to represent cleansing and purification from evil, sin, sickness and ritual pollution, concepts carried over from traditional thought. Sometimes the place from where the water is drawn is also important; as in baptisms, in some churches the water must be ‘living (running) water’. This belief in holy water is prominent in almost all indigenous Pentecostal-type churches, one notable exception being the IPC.

In the ZCC the use of ‘holy water’ is one of the central practices in the church. Members receive water which has been prayed over by a minister or prophet. This water is then taken home and sprinkled as a ritual of purification or protection, or it is drunk or washed in for healing purposes. The water may be sprinkled on people, cars (it is even put into the radiators of cars for protection), houses, school books, food, and a variety of other objects. The use of this water is given biblical justification by referring to God’s promise to cleanse his people from all their impurities by the sprinkling of clean water (Ezekiel 36:25), to the practice in the Torah of sprinkling water on a person polluted by contact with a corpse (Numbers 19:11-12) and by the Spirit of God ‘hovering’ over the waters (Genesis 1:1). It is therefore believed that the Holy Spirit is present with the water that has been blessed, or with the river of baptism (eg Dzivhani 1992:16).

In the ZCC the most common healing method, as in many other indigenous churches, is the sprinkling with ‘blessed water’ (in Sotho, meetse a thapelo, ‘water that has been prayed for’). The use of water appears to be more of a protective and cleansing ritual rather than a healing one. Blessed water has in fact many uses: it is used to purify people or objects after they have become contaminated (such as after a funeral), to welcome visitors, for protection against sorcery and misfortune, for the obtaining of employment, for abundant harvests, for cooking and washing, and for the ‘gate test’ by prophets at church services (see chapter three). It is not always necessary for the water to be prayed for by a ZCC prophet or minister. Sometimes ZCC members may obtain the water for themselves and pray for it, as in the case of the father whose children were ill at night. He prayed for a cup of water and gave it to the children to drink; and they recovered. The source and the type of the water is important. Our fieldworker was told to collect water from a certain spring near Brits, which he should use for his healing. When I asked whether the spring had any particular ritual significance I was told that it was simply a place revealed to a prophet by the Spirit. They had the prerogative to identify any such specific place in their prophesying, and the important thing was to carry out their instructions implicitly. The ZCC now also uses special tea and coffee made for healing purposes, labelled (in Sotho) tea ya bophelo (the tea of life). One ZCC informant told us how his child was healed from a deformity known as poala when the child was given this tea together with water from a spring.

In the ZCC the use of symbolic healing objects is known as mohau [‘grace’], and it is justified from the Bible by referring to Paul’s use of articles of clothing to heal people in Acts 19:12 (cf Dzivhani 1992:18). Walking sticks blessed by the Bishop, ropes and strings or strips of cloth worn around the body are also believed to have protective powers. Strips of blue cloth known as the khutane have to be worn in a secret place in their clothes to protect members against assaults and lightning. Similarly, ZCC members tie copper wires across their gates or in their houses to protect against sorcery and lightning. Almost every ZCC member interviewed stressed the importance of observing the ditaelo (‘instructions’) given in order to be safe. This ditaelo is a sort of secret and personal law which the member may not divulge to anyone else. Some ZCC members also attach significance to the church badge as a source of protection, given to each member after baptism. The badge is a token of faithfulness to the church, a symbol of solidarity and unity with ZCC members everywhere. A person with a badge on will not dare to drink or smoke, taboos to all ZCC members.

Another method of healing in the ZCC is that of pricking, where a prophet prescribes that a patient be pricked on the hands, legs or in the nostrils in order to get rid of what is traditionally believed to be the source of sickness and pain, impure blood. Salt is used to clean the stomach and excess bile through vomiting. The use of a small piece of wood (kotana), of a sheet of paper waved rapidly over the patient’s body, of sand from a certain river or dam, and the use of other objects named by the prophets are all common faith healing customs in the ZCC. We witnessed people coming forward to be blessed in the church services, when the ministers patted them on their heads with pieces of paper. It is important to note, though, that behind all these practices is the fundamental conviction that a prerequisite for protection is the prior confession of sins, without which the ‘medicine’ is useless.

ZCC members interviewed believe in the importance of healing by the use of symbolic objects; but some are careful to point out that the healing does not come because of any intrinsic power in the objects themselves, but because of a person’s faith in God. One ZCC member said that ZCC people do not only depend upon these symbols, as ‘most of the time we pray’. Another member said that without prayer the symbolic objects would not work. A young ZCC woman said that the objects are only signs to identify you with your church, and they have no intrinsic power to heal. Another ZCC woman said that these symbols were like school uniforms – they told others to which ‘school’ you belonged. Another ZCC member said that people must have faith in God and not in either the minister or prophet or in the church – for it is God alone who will help them. Another said that only Jesus can help a person when troubled by sickness; what is needed is faith and prayer. One ZCC member made the following illuminating statement:

I believe that one can be healed or delivered by the use of symbolic objects – I believe that with all my heart. Even though I cannot explain how it happens, one thing I know is that we have been troubled by people at my place many times. After taking perhaps a rope or some water, we find that no further trouble occurs, and we are delivered in that way. Sorcerers are afraid of a person who prays; so when you pray for an object like a rope, or you pray for water and sprinkle it around your house – when the sorcerers come they just see the glory of God. They find you with the ropes that have been prayed for. I know these people are afraid of prayer. How the power is transferred from the rope or the water to the place that is paining, or how the water scares the sorcerers away from your place – that I cannot really explain; but it works!

It was clear that many ZCC members in Soshanguve felt that the important thing was not the symbol itself, but the prayer that was offered to God and the faith that was exercised, without which the symbol would be useless. Several ZCC respondents placed the emphasis on prayer rather than on the healing symbol. One woman said that one could be set free from all kinds of trouble through prayer and waiting on God for the answer, which did not always come immediately. God would solve all human problems in his time, she said.

The ZCC has special times when the sick are attended to; and it seems that this does not usually take place on Sundays, which is set aside for public worship. In Soshanguve, Wednesdays and Saturdays are used to minister to the sick.

In the views of the members themselves, the symbols pointed to the power of God. We did not find many people who thought that the symbolic objects used in healing had any intrinsic power in themselves, which is a perceptible departure from traditional beliefs. It was only prayer, a person’s faith in God, and the power of God which gave efficacy to the symbols, without which they were useless. Nevertheless, we must not overlook the possible danger of misinterpretation here. To some people the healing symbols become something other than symbols of God’s power, and are seen as having magical power in themselves. This is particularly the case (as is true of all varieties of Christian expression both inside and outside Africa) when with the passing of time, members observe certain rituals because they have become traditions of the church, and not because they really understand their symbolic significance. In these instances the forms remain while the meaning has become obscured. The result is a syncretism which is neither true to African traditional religion nor truly Christian. But this problem is by no means peculiar to African Pentecostalism. All types of church members throughout the world tend to attach magical interpretations to symbols so that the meaning has changed.

ZCC members must observe the ditaelo (instructions) given by the church authorities to maintain healing. A ZCC minister told us that two main things were needed for a person to be set free from trouble: firstly, the person must be ‘in good standing with God’; and secondly, the instructions passed down from the ancestors through the mouth of the prophets must be carried out.

This man also told us that the ZCC helped its members to protect themselves against sorcerers by providing them with brown paper, which they took with them when visiting non-members. If they were offered tea or food, they would light the brown paper and wave the smoke over the food; they were thereby protected from possible poison by sorcery. The ZCC tea was to be drunk every morning before going to work or school, as this gave additional protection. The tea leaves were to be put inside the shoes, so that if perchance a ZCC member should walk where a sorcerer’s spells had been placed on the ground he or she would be protected from harm. ZCC ministers should carry holy staffs and whips with them at night to defend themselves against tsotsis (hooligans) and to crack the whip at any tokoloshe that might be encountered. A crack of the whip apparently rendered him powerless.

For myself and Sam Otwang, who were not seeking out help from the prophets nor anticipating it when it was offered, the description of our participation in the ZCC prophetic healing ceremonies above leaves one important question unanswered. In both our cases the prophetic diagnoses were ‘wrong’. Did this mean that this was the norm in these churches, and that the prophets were part of a play acting that is a gigantic hoax? This conclusion, although ‘obvious’ and ‘logical’ from a Western perspective, would be superficial and altogether wrong. Most of the ZCC and other church respondents spoke of tangible help that they had received at the hands of the prophets, and their belief in the absolute correctness of the prophetic diagnoses. This may be explained by the fact that these people had needs for which they were seeking solutions; and they had faith in the power of God working through the prophets. We did not come across a person complaining about the ‘wrongness’ of the diagnosis; although a few complained that no diagnosis had been given, or that the prophetic therapy had been unable to help them. When I asked ZCC members about our seemingly ‘wrong’ diagnoses, they explained that the revelations to the prophets were not always concerning present conditions. Sometimes the prophets would diagnose afflictions that would occur in the future. A person who followed their instructions would avoid these problems. In other words, the prophetic diagnoses are usually taken seriously by those participating in them; and we must do the same to avoid a Western misinterpretation. Besides this, human error is inevitable in healing practices. I have witnessed many Pentecostal healing services over the past twenty years where sick people have apparently gone away unhealed, and so-called ‘miracles’ are claimed which eventually prove to be no miracles at all. This human failure does not mean that God’s power and ability to heal is thereby negated.

The salvation we proclaim must deal with the deliverance of the whole person from the totality of the evil forces which are ranged against one’s very existence. The methods used to receive this salvation and the perceptions concerning the means of grace sometimes differ. Bishops, prophets, pastors, evangelists and ordinary church members exercise the authority that they believe has been given them by God to announce the good news that Jesus Christ saves from sin, from sickness, and from every conceivable form of evil and ‘darkness’. This is the gospel which the church must proclaim in Africa.


As one accustomed to African Pentecostalism in its more ‘Western’ form, I found myself unacclimatised to what seemed to be the strange yet fascinating liturgy of the ZCC. None of us can escape the fact of the universal conscious or unconscious use of symbolism in all Christian expressions, be it African indigenous church, Pentecostal, Protestant, Orthodox or Catholic. There is a danger that evaluations of another’s symbolism will be based on our subjective experience of what we perceive as an absence of symbolism in our own religious expression, when even the absence of overt symbolism is a symbol in itself! In all types of African Pentecostalism there are certain common characteristics: an absence of formality, a freedom, and a sense of communal participation were the most obvious ones, but there were more subtle ones as well. Anyone oriented to a European or North American expression of Christianity (be it Pentecostal or otherwise) will be unnerved, and possibly even disturbed by the liturgy of these churches. Their very Africaness will not be comfortable for most Westerners. And yet African Pentecostal and Pentecostal-type people in South Africa have declared their independence, their ingenuity, and their power and dignity as human beings and children of God. They have preserved the best of their cultural heritage and have transformed its inadequacies in this manifestation of power from God to conquer the social injustice and oppression that has plagued them for so long.


Anderson, Allan 1992. BAZALWANE: African Pentecostals in South Africa. Pretoria: Unisa Press

CSS 1992. Population census 1991. ‘Summarised results before adjustment for undercount’. Pretoria: Central Statistical Service

Dzivhani, G 1992. ‘ZCC – church of the almighty God’, in The ZCC Messenger 22:16-18

Lukhaimane, E K 1980. ‘The Zion Christian Church of Ignatius (Engenas) Lekganyane, 1924 to 1948: an African experiment with Christianity’. MA dissertation, University of the North, Pietersburg

© Allan Anderson

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