An intrinsic part of Zambian culture and identity is the attachment that the everyday Zambian has with religion. It is seen in all parts of society, from saying a prayer before an important meeting all the way down to the Constitution, which enshrines Zambia as a Christian nation.
In the current constitution, the country maintains its Christian declaration, but upholds the freedom of conscience, beliefs and religions for all people. Thus, it is not illegal to practice any other form of religion that one is spiritually led to.
In this vein, it is mostly normalized for citizens to carry out what may be referred to as mainstream religions; Christianity and Islam make up the most common practices, but there are others who practice Hinduism, Sikhism and least commonly, witchcraft.
The Lusaka Star had the rare opportunity to sit down with someone who practices witchcraft, as part of her spiritual beliefs.
Mzimu (her real name is withheld) is a normal Zambian youth. She has her own small business and does typical things that young people too. Except, when many youths would go to church on Sunday, she chooses to worship the earth and her goodness.
“My beliefs are centered on giving praise to the sun and earth and all life forms it sustains, while acknowledging and respecting my ancestors and the universe as a power,”Mzimu explained.
She clarified that African Traditional Religion is more akin to what she practices, but the practice is vast and unique to each individual. Growing up in a Christian environment, Mzimu said she has often faced people misunderstanding what witchcraft is and equating it to Satanism.
“People tend to fear what they don’t understand, or what they have been brought up to believe is wrong,”she said.
“Having come from a Christian background, witchcraft is heavily frowned upon seeing as Christians believe magic abilities, sorcery and voodoo are said to have Lucifer as the driving force. Satanism or Luciferianism and witchcraft are not the same thing.”
It can be said then, that the difference in her beliefs and Christianity is who she worships. To a typical Christian, God is the father and creator, however, to Mzimu God is her inner voice.
“God is the driving force behind my goodwill, good fortune and intuition,”she said.
Mzimu has her own process of worshipping. similarly, to how a christian may go to church on Sunday, Mzimu sets up and altar and gets ready to have her own little service.
“I sit in front my altar. Light my candles. Offer my greetings and offerings to my ancestors. Meditate and communicate my desires, grievances and thanks. I have pictures of my certain ancestors that I acknowledge on my altar,”Mzimu edded.
Of course, practicing an alternative religion in Zambia can be met with a lot of opposition, or at most raised eyebrows. Mzimu has had her fair share of the prejudice, where people immediately assume that she will cure them if they get on her bad side. She assured the Lusaka Star however, that the thought is ridiculous.
The journey to self-understanding is a long and arduous one, and religion and worship often plays into that. Mzimu was born into a Christian family but, at a certain point she decided to leave Christianity.
Mzimu is a passionate feminist, and her experiences in feminism helped her form the decision to leave the church.
She cited the oppression of women and the double standards displayed in the church as some of her reasons for her departure.
“Being portrayed as a second class citizen. Having to strive to be Proverbs 31 woman being vilified for not wanting to adhere to those rules. Being chastised for asking questions because God, for some reason, cannot be questioned,”she further explained
Mzimu mentioned that even growing up, she never really felt at home in Christianity.
“it’s a somewhat violent religion,”she added.
Taking a bold step to pursue an alternative religion can never be easy, and although she has faced some attacks from people who do not understand her stance, Mzimu is still open and loving towards those she meets. She is mostly able to tell others about her religious stance, but its not always met with the understanding she extends outwards.
“Most times people don’t take it seriously, which is fine by me but on the other hand some threaten me with things like eternal damnation and I have been insulted for being a fool and messenger of the devil,”Mzimu said.
“I don’t believe in hell as it being a place where people go to suffer after they die, i think of it more as an experience. Hell is different things to different people.”
Despite facing some vitriol from others, she always tries to extend the same grace to others that she herself experiences.
“Do what makes you happy, as long you don’t hurt anyone else. Treat people with the same favour you wish the god you worship to smile upon you with,”Mzimu concluded.
Mutinta is an avid and passionate writer, who revels in stories about people. She has recently been published in a collective anthology of short stories, twice longlisted for the prestigious Kalemba Short Story Prize and has a personal blog that can be found at www.thelovingkindblog.wordpress.com