Long before Pastor Monametsi Bahudi of Central Baptist Church had his come to Jesus moment and became a God -fearing bible pounder, his forefathers were serving a different master – badimo (the gods).
Now the man of God finds himself in a very Botswana predicament: shepherding a flock that straddles Christianity, black magic and occultism.
Fortunately, Pastor Bahudi is not a pious hypocrite who is quick to throw stones. “These are two different streams and should be treated as such. It is important to understand that in the beginning mankind was open to using African practices but once one becomes a Christian, the intertwining of both becomes regressive. We believe that a pure Christian shouldn’t hold or use both (the Church and African Spirituality), allegiance should be to one and not another. Traditional African Religion therefore involves a chain of communication between the worshippers and Almighty God. This chain is as expected, influenced by cultural context. Christians directly communicate with God or Jesus Christ while traditional African religious believers communicate with God through the medium of their deceased relatives. In our church we don’t chastise or chase those who have an allegiance to both but simply try to make them understand why we believe in what we believe in, in the end it is really up to them.”
Pastor Bahudi’s quandary is a metaphor for Botswana’s spiritual poser. While Christianity is Botswana’s predominant religion, it is forced to bide uncomfortably check by jowl with the country’s tradition that is underpinned by black magic and traditional medicine.
While Christianity revere Christ as “the way, the truth and the light” African traditional worldview look up to ancestors as guardians of the living.
For instance, cultural beliefs like necromancy and witchcraft are scorned by mainstream Christianity but acknowledged in African religion. Dr Kgosietsile Maripe, Senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “the truth is that there are some people who mix the two. Though they mix Christianity and traditional religions, most practice Christianity side by side with traditional religions. They hold on to Christianity as long as there are no problems, but when problems come, when they feel the pressures of life, they go back to their old practices of ancestral worship.”
As Dr Maripe explains, when faced with challenges, most Batswana Christians often feel that prayers are not enough to protect them against these so they use charms or fetishes as an additional means of protection. They then resort to traditional spiritual rituals which have no interpretive paradigm within the Christian frame of reference. For thousands of Batswana traditionalists who have found God, most of their greatest spiritual battles are fought in the silent chambers of their own souls. During funerals, weddings and other ceremonies, they are forced to juggle traditional rituals with Christian practices. They however cannot find a common ground between Christianity and
the dynamics of African spirituality and mysticism. They cannot tap into African worldviews which exist outside the scope of the Christian system in order to understand these dynamics.
Dr Maripe explained that, “ancestral practices are very much a part of daily life in Botswana. In African traditional settings, these practices facilitate the understanding and interpretation of life. Ancestral practices provide meaning and answers to the complex issues of life. When death or other social and community problems occur, explanations are sought and usually answers are obtained from ancestors or within the realm of ancestral spirit world. The ancestral practices not only permeate all areas of life but are also deeply rooted among many Batswana. A lot of Christians/church going members of the society see the beliefs in African spirituality as blending of unacceptable ideas, practices or attitudes with the biblical truth. They see it as a replacement or dilution of essential truths of the gospel through the incorporation on non-Christian elements.”
This explains why it is somewhat tough for some Christians to maintain bits of African traditional culture because their Christian faith is contrary to African Traditional Religion. This has and still seems to create confusion among many Christians who want to maintain some of their traditions. It is not uncommon for believers to seek ancestor’s mediation whenever they are faced with problems. Most church members deny that ancestral and other traditional practices exist within the church, whereas others do not want to discuss the issue of traditional practices because of fear of being labelled superstitious. The denial is due to the way the church has handled ancestral practices in the past.