International Religious Freedom Report 2004
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

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 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, as in previous years, the Government was 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 detention.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total 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 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 political, social and economic instability. The country's small Muslim population is 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.

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.

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, influenced by the Council of Imaams (Majlis-il-Ulamas), generally has been somewhat insular; however, in the past several years, the Islamic community has expanded its outreach efforts with the aid of the Kuwaiti-sponsored African Muslim Agency (AMA). Notwithstanding budget constraints in recent years, 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.

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 (ZAOG, a separate organization from the Assemblies of God Church, which also exists in the country), continue to adhere strictly to Christian beliefs; in fact, they 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 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 1920s, when there was widespread racial and religious segregation. Many of the founders of African churches broke away from Christian missionary churches, and some of their teachings incorporated what has become known as "black consciousness." These churches grew out of the Christian churches' decision not to incorporate traditional African culture and religion. These local 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 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 operated in the country, 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. 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. During the reporting period, there were 126 hospitals and clinics in the country that fell under the Zimbabwe Association of Church Related Hospitals (ZACH), 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 provides small subsidies to cover some hospital drugs and staff salaries, but these make up only a small percentage of the hospitals' operating budgets.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

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-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, mainly 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 was some tension between the Government and some indigenous African churches because of the latter's preference for prayer over science-based medical practices that resulted in the reduction of avoidable childhood diseases and deaths in those communities. Some members of the 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), despite a broadcasting law passed in 2001 that permits one independent television broadcaster, but imposes stringent licensing requirements. 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, approached the advisory board about obtaining access to airtime. The chairman of the Religious Advisory Board believes that Muslims represent too small a percentage of society to take up minimal religious airtime or to merit membership on the advisory board. Other evangelical church groups were more hostile to Islam and were unlikely to support the inclusion of Islamic programming in the already limited religious broadcasting block. However, during the period covered by this report, Muslims occasionally were allowed to conduct the daily opening prayer on ZBC.

In the last few years, due to inadequate resources, the Government returned several former church schools that it had taken over at independence to their respective churches. The Government 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 remaining under government control were used as primary schools in the rural areas.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

During the period covered by this report, church leaders and members who criticized the Government continued to face threats, arrests and detention by government officials. 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).

In March, Reverend Noel Scott, a Northern Ireland clergyman who has been a missionary in Bulawayo for more than thirty 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.

In March, 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.

On January 1, police arrested and detained Father Nigel Johnson, Station Manager for Radio Dialogue, while Johnson filmed footage of a local dance group in the Bulawayo high-density suburb of Nkulamane. The police detained Johnson overnight and charged him with violating the Miscellaneous Offenses Act and with homicide. On March 25 and 26, police raided and searched Radio Dialogue's offices and detained two other staff members for questioning. All detainees were released.

In June 2003, Police in Masvingo questioned and detained Church of Christ preacher Sonykis Chimbuya over alleged anti-government prayers. Police ordered Chimbuya to desist from saying prayers that would have a political message. Chimbuya was released without charge the same day.

In February 2003, police harassed, arrested, and detained 19 pastors as they attempted to deliver a petition against the misuse of police power to Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri. The pastors were released the same day.

In February 2003, police arrested and detained a blind Roman Catholic nun in Harare along with 37 other women for participating in a Valentine's Day March for Peace sponsored by Women of Zimbabwe Arise! (WOZA). Police also beat and arrested a priest, Father Nigel Johnson, for filming a similar march on the same day in Bulawayo. Police arrested 14 participants in the latter march. All arrestees from both marches were released the same day.

In February 2003, police prevented a public meeting at the Northside Community Church in Harare, which was supposed to address churches' roles in the country's political crisis. Police arrested the president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), Bishop Trevor Manhanga, along with seven other people and detained them for several hours.

In 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. In early 2004, the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement announced that the country did not need any more food and notified CCJP and other distributing organizations to scale down their food assistance throughout the country.

In February 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 were dropped later.

Following Archbishop Pius Ncube's remarks during the 2002 presidential election campaign criticizing the Government's violent campaign tactics, the state-controlled daily newspaper in Bulawayo printed false accusations against Ncube, including that he distributed sexually explicit material to prisoners. 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. During the period covered by this report, Ncube reportedly received threats and intimidating visits by officers suspected to be from the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO).

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 competition with Christian denominations for converts. Catholic Church officials say that they welcome interfaith dialogue with Muslims.

There are at least four umbrella religious organizations primarily focused on interdenominational dialogue among Christians and other inter-religious activities. Muslims are not represented in any of these organizations, and there is no vehicle for formal Christian-Muslim dialogue; however, informal dialogue 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. In August 2003, the Islamic Convent of the Strict Observance (ICSO) complained to the Ministry of Education that the Lord's Prayer in the school curriculum contravened section 19 of the Constitution, which protects freedom of conscience. ICSO later withdrew the complaint.

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 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 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 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 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 laypersons operate a center in Harare, called Mashambanzou, for orphans infected with HIV/AIDS.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ) is an umbrella organization of loosely affiliated evangelical churches that was established in the early 1980s. The fellowship has observer status with the HOD but in general does not work closely with either the ZCC or the Catholic Church.

During the period covered by this report, the ZCC, ZCBC, EFZ, and South African churches and clergy called for talks of political reconciliation between the ruling and opposition parties, to resume their leadership of the country and to promote a spirit of tolerance. These organizations issued public statements strongly critical of the Government for its campaign of violent intimidation against opposition supporters, its campaign to politicize food distribution, its corruption, and its failure to guide the country out of crisis. Privately, the leaders of those organizations lamented that the Government prevented them from using existing regional church structures to import and distribute food aid in the midst of a famine.

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 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 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 while citizens continue to suffer from political violence at the hands of ruling party supporters.

In 2001, the Government 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 praising Mugabe and his policies. In August 2003, Anglican parishioners confronted Bishop Kunonga with a signed petition and detained him briefly, accusing him of misusing church funds. In October 2003, Kunonga seized a formerly white-owned farm ten miles from Harare and evicted fifty black workers to make way for his own staff.

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 accused the religious figures of being opposition supporters because of their meeting with U.S. diplomats. Although local ruling party officials later apologized to the victims, the perpetrators were not charged with any crime.

Several prominent evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Protestant bishops collaborated in an attempt to bring the ruling and opposition parties back to the negotiating table to restart dialogue aimed at resolving the country's political crisis during the period covered by this report. In September 2003, the ruling party threatened the bishops to keep their efforts quiet or it would not cooperate in the effort to restart negotiations.

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 the country, founded the organization in the mid-1970s. Fambidzano was created to give the leaders of these churches more theological and biblical education, according to Daneel. 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. In 2002, 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 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 (See Section II).

There were two reports of possible ritual murders associated with traditional religious practices during the period covered by this report. 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 six-year-old girl with several body parts missing, who was found in July, a week after she was reported missing. Police suspected that both were murdered for ritual purposes. 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.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

The U.S. Government further 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 dialogue 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.