Zimbabwe Assemblies of God Africa (ZAOGA) is one of Africa’s most significant pentecostal movements. It numbers 300,00-400,000 members in Zimbabwe and has branches in at least a dozen other African countries. It was founded by artisans and casual workers living in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare [Salisbury], during the late 1950s. The movement itself emerged from the South African derived pentecostal church, the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM). A collection of young pentecostal zealots: Joseph Choto, Raphael Kupara, Lazurus Mamvura, James Muhwati, Priscilla Ngoma, Caleb Ngorima, and Abel Sande formed a prayer band and choir around the charismatic evangelist, Ezekiel Guti. This semi-autonomous group were expelled from the AFM in 1959 following a struggle with missionaries and an elder male fraction of the black leadership.

The group subsequently joined the South African Assemblies of God of Nicholas Bhengu in association with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Once again they were expelled, and in 1967 they formed their own organization, Assemblies of God, Africa (AOGA).

The movement expanded along migrant labour networks into other Zimbabwean towns and cities as well as into Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia. In the 1970s Guti began to cultivate links with the American Bible Belt after studying at Christ for the Nations Institute (CFNI) in Dallas in 1971. After Zimbabwean independence in 1980 AOGA mushroomed on a transnational scale, renaming itself Zimbabwe Assemblies of God Africa: ZAOGA. Under the guise of Forward in Faith Movement International it established itself in Botswana, South Africa, Rwanda, Zaire, and Tanzania, and sent missionaries to Britain.

Since its founding ZAOGA has undergone a profound transformation. The movement, which had begun as a collection of young zealots rebelling against what they perceived to be corrupt and spiritually dead religious establishments, has changed into a respectable, disciplined denomination with a rich associational life of youth, women’s and men’s organizations, backed by a complex but personalized bureaucracy. An authoritarian hierarchy has replaced its formerly egalitarian structures of government and personality cult centres on Guti, who, today, is formally addressed as Archbishop but popularly referred to as the ‘Prophet and Servant of God’. In the 1990s ZAOGA’s leaders made political capital out of their enormous membership. Politicians from the ruling party,

ZANU/PF, were invited to church functions and ZAOGA sporadically added its voice to government procla-mations on moral issues. Thus, what was once a world-retreating township-based sect with strong links to rural Zionist-type Christian independency has transformed itself into a modern electronic church, part of the global born-again movement. The leadership’s former aversion to jewellery, make-up and fancy clothes, which marked out their sectarian status, has given way to embracing the opportunities of the material world, and an espousal of an Africanized prosperity gospel.

These transformations result from a variety of processes. First, ZAOGA has modernized by drawing upon external ideas and resources. From the outset the movement’s founders had the support of influential white patrons and pentecostal missionaries. More significant was Guti’s period of study at CNFI Dallas, USA. The Institute became a dynamo for global charismatic and pentecostal advance. Guti’s stay there gave him a clearer perception of the international born-again movement and its dynamics. It provided him with resources and a range of international contacts, which he used to modernize the movement. ZAOGA has also evolved by virtue of its own doctrines. Its teaching of sobriety and industry, its emphasis on smart attire and respectability, its promotion of self-reliance and entrepreneurial acumen has enhanced the social mobility of its members and attracted aspirant Christians from the historic mission churches.

ZAOGA’s phenomenal growth has led to internal conflict. Guti’s access to foreign resources provided him with a source of patronage to consolidate his control over the movement. In the 1980s and 1990s he edged out his co-founders and replaced them with his kin and ethnic group. Moreover, as the movement has expanded across social classes it has become a microcosm of wider society and shares many of its tensions. Conflict between rich and poor is often expressed in theological terms as a clash between the prosperity gospel and an older populist pentecostalism which values the socially humble person as more receptive to the gospel. More sophisticated members of the movement have become increasingly outspoken about the personality cult surrounding Guti.

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