Politics

Zambia Begins Crackdown on Self-Proclaimed Prophets

 

Article Highlights

 
A poster of Andrew Ejimadu, known as Seer 1, hangs on a school wall fence in Mandevu, an area in Lusaka, Zambia. His followers are hopeful that he will return despite his deportation. Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia
Zambia

Warning that congregants are being abused by false prophets, Zambia has deported at least one foreign national and denied entry to another. The new Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs, established in 2016 to regulate churches, says the cleanup is just beginning.

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA — Wailing and jumping characterizes a prayer session at Christ Freedom Ministries in Lusaka, as congregants vehemently pray for the return of their deported prophet Andrew Ejimadu, popularly known as Seer 1.

“Every Sunday you keep asking when is papa coming, but our duty now is to pray for his return,” says church chairman Arnold Bukoka. “We need to stand strong. With God nothing is impossible,” he says as the congregants agree with a loud “Amen!”

On April 13, the Zambia Department of Immigration deported Ejimadu to his country of origin, Nigeria, on grounds that his presence and conduct in the country was likely to be a danger to peace and good order. No further details were given.

Barely a month after Ejimadu’s deportation, another prophet, Uebert Angel from Zimbabwe, was denied entry into the country.

Zambia has seen a proliferation of Pentecostal churches, with many promoting prophetic miracles such as healing the sick. The government is warning that some prophets are scammers who abuse unsuspecting congregants emotionally, financially and sometimes sexually.

The Rev. Godfridah Sumaili, Zambia’s Minister of National Guidance and Religious Affairs, said data was unavailable on how many prophets had been deported or prevented from coming into Zambia. But she says the government will not tolerate people of questionable character disguised as prophets.

“We have just started the cleanup now,” she says.

Sumaili’s role is new, as the ministry to regulate churches was established in October 2016. Its creation caused some controversy, with the Council of Churches in Zambia and the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops issuing a statement that a ministry was unnecessary.

expand image
expand slideshow

Followers of Andrew Ejimadu, known as Seer 1, sing and pray for his return during a Sunday service at Christ Freedom Ministries in Lusaka, Zambia. Seer 1 was deported by the Zambia Department of Immigration on grounds that his presence could disrupt the peace.

Prudence Phiri, GPJ Zambia

Current guidelines indicate that a church can be registered upon the recommendation of any of Zambia’s “church mother bodies,” the largest of which are the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, the Council of Churches in Zambia and the Zambian Episcopal Conference.

A church also must submit its constitution or doctrine and the names of 10 of its leaders, with copies of national registration cards for locals and immigration permits for foreigners. In addition, it must be cleared by the police and local council, and the pastor must submit professional qualifications from a reputable Bible school.

Mable, 26, who asked that only her middle name be used to conceal her identity, says she was abused emotionally and sexually by prophets, whom she declined to name.

“In 2014, one prophet told me that I was going to be diagnosed with HIV and eventually die in 2015,” she says. “That prophecy depressed me. I started drinking and clubbing just to cheer myself up.”

Mable says she underwent several HIV tests that showed she was okay, but the prophet insisted that she would die.

In 2014, one prophet told me that I was going to be diagnosed with HIV and eventually die in 2015. That prophecy depressed me. I started drinking and clubbing just to cheer myself up.

Seeking help, Mable says she started visiting another prophet, who offered to pray against the spirit of death.

“This prophet would invite me for prayers and he started saying that God had told him that I was his wife,” she says. “He talked [to] me of how happy he would be to marry me and he eventually convinced me to be having sex with him.”

What shocked her was that every time they had sex, the prophet would use a white handkerchief to wipe her private parts and immediately leave the room with the handkerchief in a small bag, she says.

“I started feeling uncomfortable with his actions and we started having fights over it, but he never told me where he always took the white handkerchief,” she says. “I later discovered that he was actually having sex with a lot more girls in the church, that is how I left his church.”

Suzanne Matale, general secretary for the Council of Churches in Zambia, says poverty and desperation make people vulnerable to prophets.

“There is so much poverty, so much hopelessness that when people promise miracles everyone rushes hoping for a better life,” she says. She applauds tighter legal regulatory frameworks for church registrations.

Prudence Phiri, GPJ, translated some interviews from Nyanja