Missionaries and the Fight Against Colonialism

Hilde Arntsen, Lecturer, Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo

During the second Chimurenga or war of liberation in Zimbabwe, the church was criticised for not being vocal enough, appearing to be on the side of the oppressors, although some churches and missions did join or support the struggle for independence, particularly the rural missions. During the liberation war, however, traditional religions were playing an increasingly important role through the co-operation with the spirit mediums (see Lan and Hastings). Cultural identity and pride, so important for the struggle, were boosted thanks to the traditional religions which not only gave strength, but also which set the majority population apart from the ruling minority associated with Christianity. The spirit mediums became symbols of traditional power and knowledge, through their association with heroes of past times and through resistance to changes introduced by the colonial powers, the minority government and "white culture" in general.

Some missionaries and churches did, however, join the people in the fight against colonialism, although still often perceived as being on the side of the minority government. The Catholic Church of Zimbabwe voiced strong criticism of the minority rule, and particularly through Moto they spoke out against oppression of the people.50 The Catholic Church is among the religious groups who have gone the furthest in "indigenising" their leadership, church services, and forms of worship. Many of the leaders of the second Chimurenga had been educated at various mission schools. It is often argued, however, that mission education coincided with the colonisers' interest, as Rodney (1972) remarks: "Only education could lay the basis for a smooth-functioning colonial administration." The missions also had a stake in this, as it was significant for them to communicate with the people through the written word, and to translate the Bible into indigenous languages. Mission schools in varying degrees served the interests of the colonisers, the settler regimes, the missions themselves, and, finally, to some extent the people.


Hastings, A, "Mediums, Martyrs and Morals." Zambezia, 40 (1983): 1-14.

Lan, D. Guns and Rain: Guerrillas and Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe. London: James Clarrey, 1985.

Rodney, W. How Africa Underdeveloped Africa. (1st ed. 1972) Harare: Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1989.

[From Hilde Antsen, The Battle of the Mind: International New Media Elements of the New Religious Political Right in Zimbabwe. Oslo:University of Oslo, 1997. 49. Available from Department of Media and Communications [[email protected]].

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