HARARE – It is that time of the year again when thousands of Johane Masowe weChishanu church members gather at their famous Gandanzara Shrine in Makoni District to worship and praise.
It is also a time when they celebrate the life of their founder.
Yet a visit to the shrine shows how the dead — especially revered ones — are getting it all at the expense of the living, including young children.
Thousands of followers, including from across Africa thronged the shrine for this weekend to celebrate the life of the founder Johannes Masowe.
Decorated in white robes, ostensibly symbolising their spiritual holiness, it is difficult to miss them, particularly during this period.
There is a sight sure not to be missed at the shrine too —an expensively constructed and maintained grave shrine.
There is also a dilapidated school expected to be the foundation for the future of thousands of school children within the community, dominated by church members.
A beautiful structure of the grave of Mai Maggie, the sect founder’s wife is just a stone’s throw from a dire, run down school in desperate need of a face-lift.
Followers say the grave depicts heritage and honour. It is an awesome site that should attract local and foreign tourists.
The make shift primary school in front of this magnificent structure is where children of church members have done their primary education since 1989.
Mai Maggie’s grave was built 11 years later.
Many at the shrine are free to talk about the virtues of Mai Maggie and other church leaders — dead and alive — but seem uptight discussing issues to do with the welfare of the school.
A young member of the sect says the issue of education is a concept that they are trying to introduce as a top priority but they have to get through some “stiff” elders first.
“To the elders education is a western culture that the whites brought to brainwash us. Yet these children need education to survive in this era,” she says in hushed tones.
The contrast of the two constructions lying adjacent to each other appears to supper her claim.
Close to 200 children aged between five and 12 are forced to crowd in a single room where they sit on hard concrete floor for lessons.
Meanwhile, Mai Maggie is enjoying eternal rest in a state of the art brick faced grave just across.
Angelina Kutsvetedzera, a teacher at the church run school says dilapidated as it is, the school attracts many in the community.
Poverty, she says, is the biggest problem.
Some parents do not have money to pay for school fees.
“School fees cost $3 per student per term but with the situation here, that figure is too high. The school is struggling because parents are too poor to help,” says Kutsvetedzera, who is a member of the church.
Due to financial constraints many of the children only go up to grade seven and thereafter the boys are taught survival skills. And the girls are married off in their early teens.
Zimbabwe has one of the highest literacy rates in the region with 99,5 percent of the population being literate according to Zimbabwe statistics.
But for sect members, the shrine is all too important to play second fiddle to the school.
A church member is all praises of Mai Maggie and other church founders and glowingly tells us how church members congregated every Saturday to raise money to build the shrine.
At the Gandanzara shrine there is also a massive building where the “sisters or nuns” of the sect live.
Freshly painted, the mansion is also a representation of where the sect members’ priorities lie.
The emergence of the Masowe we Chishanu movement among Shona people has spread through the whole of the southern and central African region.
The movement was founded in the 1930s by a man called Shonhiwa Mtunyane, sometimes called “Sixpence”, from Gandanzara in Makoni district. He became popularly known by his religious titles of Johane Masowe (meaning John of the Wilderness) and John the Baptist.
At the time of his death in 1973, Johane Masowe left an estimated following of over half a million people in nine different countries spread in east, central and southern Africa.
September 28 this year marks the day the late Johane Masowe‘s life and doctrine will be celebrated by his followers.
But the shabby school blights the vision.