ZIMBABWE remains among 106 countries globally with neither an official or preferred religion while Zambia is the only Christian country in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a Pew Research Centre report on religion.
The research, conducted by the American-based fact tank, was done on over 199 countries around the world with the aim to understand restrictions on religion as at end of 2015.
The report “analysed each country’s constitution or basic laws along with its official policies and actions towards religious groups to classify its church-state relationship into four categories”.
The categories were states with an official religion, states with preferred or favoured religion, states with no official or preferred religion and states with a hostile relationship towards religion.
As such, Zimbabwe falls in the list of countries with no official or preferred religion according to the provisions of Section 60 (1) (a) and (b) of the Constitution which provides every citizen with the freedom of conscience, thought, opinion, religion and belief.
It is against this background that Zimbabwe finds itself among the 106 countries with neighbours Tanzania, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho and Namibia also included.
While that official stance remains, there have been an outcryat the perceived bias towards Christianity.
Other religions have queried why Christianity takes centre stage at national gatherings where Christian prayers are usually conducted.
At swearing-in ceremonies, the Bible is used.
Professor in the Department of Religious Studies, Classics and Philosophy, Nisbert Taringa, said the Constitution of Zimbabwe and Government officials also influence the two positions that Zimbabwe finds itself in with regards to religion.
“The Constitution of Zimbabwe states that religion is practised freely. There was once a heated debate when there were suggestions to declare Zimbabwe a Christian nation. That call failed.
“If you say let’s declare Zimbabwe a Christian nation, then there will be a fight in deciding if it will be Catholic, Adventist or Lutheran,” Professor Taringa said.
“But Christianity is a preferred religion at gatherings due to the greater percentage of Christians who make up the population. So they see more of Christian clergy, and sometimes traditionalists, than anyone else.
“It’s not by accident. It has a demographic argument premised on the percentages of the population which make up the various religions in the country.
“But those permutations mean the report (Pew) is correct that in principal there is no restricted religion.
“Secondly, there are ideological positions which inform gatherings done by Government. For instance, people study the support base,” said Prof Taringa, who is also the Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Arts.
According to the Education Sector Strategic Plan of 2016-2020, just under two-thirds of the population (62 percent) are Christians with a small population of Muslims and those who practise indigenous and traditional religion.
An atheist who preferred anonymity said Christianity is a favoured religion.
“Note that most if not all public events begin with a Christian prayer. Even in Parliament, they start with a Christian prayer.
“I have been to a session of the Junior Parliament and I was shocked by this because one would think we would respect that MPs (Members of Parliament) represent all Zimbabweans, not just Christians,” he said.
Jae Brown Masuka said: “There is no preferred but favoured religion which has a majority or perceived majority. In most cases, religious rites on public events are by default Christian. For instance, people often pray before public meetings.”
Another observer, Mike Tonderai, said by virtue of colonialism and missionary influence, the majority of Zimbabweans generally favour Christianity and would like to see it as an official religion.
Sheikh Henry Balakazi said it is unfair to suggest that a particular religion is favoured or preferred in this country.
“We Muslims, though we are a minority, freely practise our faith in our country. We build our mosques and Islamic schools as and when we want just like any other religion. Where religious matters are concerned we enjoy our freedom of assembly and association.”
In the research, findings highlight that there are advantages for an official or preferred religion.
“In some cases, state religions have roles that are largely ceremonial.
“But often the distinction comes with tangible advantages in terms of legal or tax status, ownership of real estate or other property, and access to financial support from the state.
“Much more frequently, however, states with official religions do not make the religion mandatory, but do give it more benefits than other religions, and those states typically regulate other religious groups in the country.
“There also usually are financial benefits for official state religions.”
The report states that among the 43 countries with an official religion, 98 percent provide funding or resources for educational programmes, property or other religious activities.
“More than eight in 10 countries (86 percent) provide funding or resources specifically for religious education programmes or religious schools that disproportionately benefit the official religion,” the report reveals, citing that in many such cases, governments also contribute to the upkeep of religious property or land.