"It's Not Satanism": Zimbabwean church leaders advocate vaccines

Yvonne Binda, dressed in pristine white robes and in front of a congregation of churchgoers, tells them to forget what they have heard about COVID-19 vaccinations.

"It's Not Satanism": Zimbabwean church leaders advocate vaccines

She says, "The vaccine does not link to Satanism." The congregation, which is part of the Apostolic Christian church in Zimbabwe, remains unmoved. Binda, a member of an Apostolic Church and a vaccine campaigner, promises the congregants soap, buckets, and masks. There are cheers of "Amen!"

The most skeptical Zimbabweans are those who infuse traditional beliefs into a Pentecostal doctrine. They also have a strong distrust of modern medicine. Many of their followers believe in the power of prayer, holy water, and anointed stones to cure or prevent disease.

Binda addressed the congregation in rural Seke singing about the protection of the holy spirit. However, they have acknowledged soap and masks as defense against the coronavirus. Binda is trying convince them to get vaccinated. It's not an easy sell.

Kudzanayi Mudzoki, leader of the congregation, had to work hard for his flock to listen to Binda talk about vaccines.

He said, "They often run away, but some would hide behind the bushes."

Although there has not been much research into Apostolic churches in Zimbabwe, UNICEF estimates that it is the country's largest religious group with approximately 2.5 million members in a country of fifteen million. These conservative groups believe that followers should avoid medical care and seek healing through faith.

Tawanda Mukwenga, a fellow religious Zimbabwean, embraced his vaccination as a way to allow him to worship in the proper manner. Mukwenga attended Mass at Harare's Roman Catholic cathedral, his first Sunday Mass since the pandemic that decimated churches and forced people to worship online. Zimbabwe has reopened worship places, but worshippers must be vaccinated before they can enter.

Mukwenga was delighted to attend Mass at the cathedral once again and said, "Getting vaccinated turned out to be smart."

According to statistics, more than 80% of Zimbabweans identify themselves as Christians. However, the differences in attitudes displayed by Seke Apostolic members, Mukwenga, and Mukwenga mean that there is no single solution for convincing religious citizens who are hesitant to get vaccinated.

Mandates -- a clear no vaccine, no entry rule -- are the best approach for some. However, the Apostolic and other antivaccine Pentecostal groups have a more subtle approach. This is partly because they are highly suspicious of vaccines.

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