Traditional African religion in Zimbabwe is a combination of Deism and Spiritism. Both the Shona (80% majority) tribe and the Ndebele (20% Minority) tribe recognise "the Most High God", “Mwari”, or “Mlimo” who speaks through the Rozvi priests in the Matopos. Traditional religion also recognises the role of ancestors (“Midzimu”).
These ancestors are seen as intermediaries between man and God with mediums playing a major role, especially amongst the Shona society.
The “Chaminuka”, “Mhondoro” (lion spirits) and “Matshave” ancestor cults are particularly well known. Wizards breathing fire, mermaids, familiar spirits, snakes and reptiles which lead people off into the bush as if by a strange compulsion, witchcraft, seances and illicit intercourse with the dead, are clearly condemned by Scripture (Lev. 20:6,27; Deut. 18:9-1 3). This was the rocky ground into which the Word of God had to be sown by missionaries like Robert Moffatt and David Livingstone.
Moffatt visited the Matabele King Mzilikazi in 1829 and 1835, and north of the Limpopo in 1854 and 1857. Yet only by 1859 did Mzilikazi reluctantly allow a mission station to be established at Inyanti near Bulawayo. For 30. years this missionary station faithfully carried on their work— yet without producing a single convert. (For no-one dared to accept the Gospel for fear of upsetting Mzilikazi, his successor, Lobengula, the witchdoctors or the “ancestors”). Yet, out of such faithfulness the Church in Zimbabwe was born. And where Moffatt’s strategy of the mission station seemed to fail at first, Livingstone’s way of being a forerunner "preparing the way of the Lord" doing the work of a pioneer and explorer “to make an open path for commerce and Christianity” succeeded. With the coming of civilization to Zimbabwe came the first openness to the Gospel.
However, we must still be aware that the beliefs and practises of animism, ancestor worship and witchcraft have by no means disappeared. Not only is this “traditional religion” making a come-back but it is even being promoted by many church leaders, such as Rev. Canaan Banana and his Gospel of the Ghetto” and by mediums like Ushewokunze.
DAVID LIVINGSTONE’S TESTIMONY
“I am a missionary, heart and soul. God had only one Son, and he was a missionary and a physician. A poor, poor Imitation of Him I am, or wish to be. In this service I hope to live; in it I wish to die.”
“Cannot the love of Christ carry the missionary where the slave trade carried the trader?”
“Nothing will induce me to form an impure church. Fifty added to the church sounds fine at home, but if only five of these are genuine what will it profit in the Great Day? I have felt more than ever lately that the great object of our exertions ought to be conversion.
Nothing earthly will make me give up my work in despair. I encourage myself in the Lord my God and go forward.”
The Life of David Livingslone, Worcester. Moody Press.