Four days ago I returned from a week in Zimbabwe. It was the first trip back to the country of my childhood since 1985, and the first time I had spent more than a day in transit further north since 1971. I was invited by a new Christian university situated in Bindura, 87 km from Harare, Zimbabwe’s biggest and capital city. The Zimbabwe Ezekiel Guti University (ZEGU) was established by the ZAOGA church (Zimbabwe Assemblies of God Africa) in 2012 and is still in its beginnings. I was invited by the Vice-Chancellor of ZEGU, Professor Dominica Mutanga, and by the founder of the church, Ezekiel Guti (now a sprightly 94). I had first met Baba Guti in South Africa in the early 1990s, and then in Sandwell near Birmingham the day before I left for Harare. I was accompanied on this trip by two lecturers from the University of Nottingham, Dr Juliet Thondhlana and Dr Roda Madziva, and together we are hoping to begin a multidisciplinary study on the ZAOGA practice of Matarenda (“talents”), a remarkably successful scheme for getting people into employment and entrepreneurship. So this trip was fact-finding, but specifically for me to advise the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at ZEGU on their curriculum and staff development, and the setting up of a centre for the study of Pentecostalism in the Department. I was warmly received and the discussions were stimulating.
I was housed in the comfortable ZAOGA guest house in Waterfalls, Harare next door to their impressive headquarters. While there I also visited their recently opened Mbuya Dorcas Hospital, their large conference centre and international Bible college, and a secondary school. The university and all these different institutions have been financed entirely by Zimbabwean church members. On the Thursday I gave a public lecture in ZEGU’s Harare campus, where some 200 people attended, including most of the ZAOGA ministers in the district, the faculty from ZEGU, and a few academics from the University of Zimbabwe, one of the latter giving a response to my paper. ZAOGA began in the 1960s in Bindura and the township of Highfields in Harare. I visited the original sites of both these churches, and the cave near Bindura where Ezekiel Guti is said to have prayed and received his calling. ZAOGA Forward in Faith has grown to become the largest Pentecostal denomination in Zimbabwe and one of the largest on the continent. In all my travels I had a driver, Pastor Mike Tagarira, the PR person for ZAOGA who took me twice to Bindura and back, and once to Howard, the Salvation Army mission in Chiweshe, where I spent six years of my childhood. I had a meal in Harare with my only remaining cousin in Zimbabwe, Helena Rose, nee Anderson, and her husband Mick Rose. A wonderful time of catching up after many years.
The trip was both stimulating and nostalgic. The Zimbabwe countryside with its forests, granite outcrops known as “koppies”, and its lakes and rivers, seemed as beautiful as it ever was, at least what I saw. Most of the paved roads are badly in need of repairs, especially in Harare, where most roads are potholed. Heavy rains last season did not help. Especially memorable was my visit to Howard, to go inside the house we lived in for four years in the 1960s and to see again the buildings where my parents worked at the Officers’ Training College, since relocated to Harare. The old hospital still stands, with recent state-of-the-art additions. The old “Howard Institute” including the Officers’ College and a Teachers’ College now houses Howard High School, a boarding school with 900 boarders. I was also thrilled to be able to visit my own old boarding school, Prince Edward School, a boys’ high school where I was a boarder for almost four years before moving to do my A levels at Milton in Bulawayo. The latter was my dad’s old school in the city of his birth a century ago. My hostel, then called Selous House, is still there in all its “glory”. Built 90 years ago, it seems to have stood the ravages of time. The dining hall, the classrooms, playing fields, etc. were all there and seemed to shed some of the secrets I had forgotten about long ago. Memories of that bitter-sweet time came flooding back as I walked around those grounds. The trip was too brief to have much more than a superficial impression, but I was glad I had had the opportunity to visit Zimbabwe again, to me a beloved country.