The centenary celebrations of the ANC and their determination to dedicate the country to the ancestral spirits sparked nation wide controversy. How are we as Christians to respond? What does the Bible say concerning the spirits of our ancestors? To whom should South Africa be dedicated? Are there examples in history of other nations that have invoked the spirits of their ancestors? What were the results in those cases?
The African National Congress started off the year by throwing itself a lavish birthday party in Bloemfontein. To celebrate its journey from anti-apartheid movement to ruling party, they scheduled a golf outing, champagne toasts, and an inter-faith service which involved slaughtering a bull and invoking the ancestral spirits.
With drums pounding and chants filling the air, the ANC president, Jacob Zuma, initiated the traditional cleansing ceremony by ritually sacrificing a bull, killing it with a spear, while it was tied to a tree. ANC secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, explained: “traditionally the act of slaughtering has different meanings. All nations have a way of celebration through slaughter… it is the same but in different circumstances.” The inter-faith service included messages and blessings from representatives of all major religions, including Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Rastafarian, and traditional Animist witchdoctors. Despite the ANC, secretary general’s assertion that “all nations have a way of celebration through slaughter…” journalists could not think of how the Queen of England, for example, marks national events by ritual slaughter of a helpless animal.
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.
According to World Council of Churches official, Wesley Ariarajah: Mission work has become unnecessary for “We must not take God somewhere — He is everywhere already.” All claims of uniqueness, he added are harmful in a world of religious pluralism.
The 7th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches took place in Canberra, Australia, from 7 — 20th February 1991 with characteristic pagan ritual.
The opening procession to the large worship tent on the campus of the Australian National University were made to symbolically pass through the fire. The smoke made by burning gum leaves was described by the Ecumenical Press Service as “a traditional cleansing process for Aborigines in Australia” and was thought to signify “the cleansing and refining fire of the Holy Spirit.”
An Aboriginal runner carried a traditional “message stick” ahead of the WCC officials to ask the assembled Aboriginal elders permission to enter the land. Once the permission was ritually granted the WCC officials proceeded through the smoke.
From a missionary point of view, the three greatest threats and challenges to the Christian church in Africa today are Communism, Islam and witchcraft.
More than half of Africa is strongly influenced by animism or ancestor worship. The power of the witchdoctor is immense as he lays on the people’s fears of the spirit world and exploits their superstitions.
When someone falls sick or dies, it isn’t because of disease, lack of hygiene or for want of medical help. No, says the witch doctor, it is an evil spirit who placed a curse on them. Nobody ever seems to get bitten by a snake or eaten by a crocodile, according to the witchdoctor. No, an ancestral spirit took the form of a snake and punished the person for some transgression of tribal custom.
One of our field teams was preaching the Gospel to a crowd of two hundred Caprivians near Katima Mulilo. They all seemed to be responding very positively until one of our workers spoke out against witchcraft. Suddenly the whole hail was filled with a rumbling sound as many angrily murmured and complained. One man stood up and rebuked us for condemning witchcraft — “It is our tradition!” he declared.
“Are you a Christian?” he was asked.
“Yes, we who are here are all Christians,” came the reply.
“Do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God?”
“Yes, we all are good church members — but how can you speak against our traditions. The witchdoctor protects us against the evil spirits, and heals some diseases that the white doctor cannot.”