A branch of this church recently made news headlines in Francistown, Botswana after controversially resisting the anti polio immunization. According to a faithful, he finds it strange that after many years of the practice of the sect in the country, it was only recently that the authorities claimed ignorance of this basic tenet on modern medicines among others. “May Mwari (Shona for God) be merciful and not judge those who forcefully administered anti-polio drops on our children harshly,” he prays.
The church, introduced to Botswana by the founder himself between 1952 and 1954 first camped in the North-East village of Ramokwegbana. It appears under many names with Church of God appended. It traces its origin to Zimbabwe at a place known as Marimba where available records indicate that a respected prophet Shoniwa Masedza, established it around 1932.
Shoniwa born at Rusape District believes he has been commissioned by the great Arch angel to minister to ‘the race of cush (the black people).’ “The Ancient of Days blessed me and changed my name from Shoniwa to John the Baptist. The name John denotes the grace of God to Cush and the rest of the world,” the Founder intimates.
In spite of many controversies ranging from the manner of worship, schooling and others, the church emphasizes a strong work ethic among its faithful. The African Executive caught up with Moffat Ngwabwi a Zimbabwean national aged 74 who has lived in Kenya since 1968. Ngwabwi is a member of the Gospel Church of God in Kenya. He makes reed furniture, basketry, brooms and other reed items for sale. Botswana nationals also gave their views.
AE: How did you find yourself in Kenya?
Ngwabwi: We have been mobile spreading the Good News all over the world. We have camped in South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Israel, Yemen, Ethiopia, among other countries. Our founder, John the Baptist told us to sojourn for a longer time in Kenya for here, God has prepared people to heed our call.
AE: What are the objectives of your church?
Ngwabwi: We believe in the coming of the Lord (Christ or Messiah), spreading the good tidings to the continent of Cush (Africa) and overseas; laying hands on and praying for the sick; keeping the ten commandments; denouncing laziness; loving one another and carrying out prophetic work through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
AE: Denouncing laziness. Is that why you weave reed chairs, baskets and brooms?
Ngwabwi: Yes. We must learn to work with our hands otherwise, how shall we live? When I am going to preach, I can’t tell the bus conductor that I am a servant of God therefore I need not pay fare. He can’t understand such nonsense. His car has to be fuelled and repaired for wear and tear. That calls for money. How will I help those in need if I don’t have something in my hand!
AE: Is that why I see a lot of Kales grown around your church compound?
Ngwabwi: Yes. Those are planted by the sisters who live here. They have been taught the virtue of constructive work and the vice of idleness. They keep themselves busy by raising crops for their food among other chores like knitting cloths which they sell to earn a living.
Mrewa: Laziness is a bad thing. Most of us blacks are lazy to think and work. Our girls don’t want to use their hands or brains. Laziness sends them selling their bodies.
Matsunyane: We teach our children survival skills, and of course how to read and write. It is not a string of university degrees that feed an individual. From a young age, our children are mature enough to overcome the challenges of life.
AE: Ngwabwi, where do you get your major raw materials from?
Ngwabwi: The reeds are brought from Homa Bay. The buying price depends on the quantity of the roll of reeds bought. The cheapest goes for Ksh 200.
AE: How often do you buy the reeds?
Ngwabwi: The frequency depends on how fast my products go. I sell the products first to enable me get money to purchase raw materials for the next consignment.
AE: Who are your customers?
Ngwabwi: Any interested person. As you can see, my work is displayed by the gate of the street. Any interested customer walks in and the bargain process begins.
AE: What commodity sells fast?
Ngwabwi: Baskets and brooms. The chairs are just bought once in a while.
AE: How much do your items cost?
Ngwabwi: The chairs range between Ksh.2,000 a piece to Ksh.6,000, a set of three. A reed stool goes at Ksh.1,000 while reed baskets go at Ksh.250 each. I also weave plastic baskets which are sold at Ksh.100 each but many people don’t buy them though.
AE: What setbacks do you face in your trade?
Ngwabwi: The sales are quite low at the moment. I lack a good storage facility. I just cover my work with polythene paper to safeguard it from the vagaries of weather. I would really appreciate a stand to exhibit my work but I fear renting one in case sales go down and the landlord demands pay.
AE: Do you ever advertise your work?
Ngwabwi: I’ve never done that. I depend on passersby who take note of the items and church members who know about my trade. Displaying the goods outside the gate would invite the wrath of the city council officials.
AE: How do you add value to your goods?
Ngwabwi: I garnish them with varnish according to the customers’ taste and reinforce others with bamboo if necessary.
AE: Your sect is embroiled in several controversies including failure to attend village meetings sanctioned by the local government
Sekakwabe: We are mostly self employed. Some of us are cobblers. Others are self taught welders. The subject matter of those meetings rarely add value to our lives and besides, we have to earn a living. How do we leave our wares on the streets to attend long meetings and sleep hungry?
AE: Mrewa, how does your religion help the fight against HIV Aids?
Mrewa: We were informed about this disease a long time ago by our prophet. Through prayer, we were able to keep it at bay. We believe that adultery is a contributory factor to the spread of the disease. Our church doctrine demands that a bride be a virgin and nothing else. This places a strong responsibility on parents to ensure that their daughters remain chaste until marriage. Young boys and girls are not encouraged to play together.
Matsunyane We are not a bunch of irresponsible people as the Botswana government would want people to believe. It is a question of not understanding our religious beliefs, appreciating them and being realistic. As for the recent protest against polio-drops, do you know that there is a silent world war fought using modern drugs? Didn’t such vaccines lead to physical disability in Kenya? Haven’t you heard that the retroviral drugs used in Uganda from the US are causing adverse side effects? With the current geo-politics shift, third world countries must be careful with supposed generosity of the international community!
AE: Sekakwabe, why do you sport a long beard?
Sekakwabe: This is our uniform and identity. Do you wonder what would happen to a male member who declined to spot a long beard and long hair? Nothing of course but they would look out of place.
AE: Why does your sect emphasize Africa?
Matsunyane: That is what God told our founder. Africa has been despised for long but God uses the supposed weak to humble the high and mighty. When we settled in South Africa we had a lot of trouble. The South African government hounded us day and night calling us the cursed descendants of Ham. Now, If Ham, Japheth and Shem were brothers, why are we fighting? Why are we despising one another? Who is superior having been brewed from the same pot? Shouldn’t we forge a united front to solve our problems?
AE: Ngwabwi, any comment?
Ngwabwi: I am grateful for the hospitality of the people of Kenya. I don’t need monetary handouts to further my business. If somebody would help me advertise my goods to enable me get steady customers, I will be up on my feet and even rent a shade.