At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, Sunday Standard asked Reverend Dr. Prince Dibeela whether he thought that prosperity gospel would survive.
“I hope it doesn’t survive,” he responded, later adding that prosperity gospel has no theological justification.
The death knell hasn’t sounded yet but there can be no doubt that prosperity gospel in Botswana is on its death bed. As Botswana National Front Vice President, Umbrella for Democratic Change parliamentary candidate for Molapowabojang-Mmathethe in the 2019 elections, principal of the Kgolagano College in Gaborone and United Congressional Church of Southern Africa pastor, Dibeela is steeped in the lives of ordinary people and has seen with his own eyes, how a pay-to-pray scam that mostly targets poor black people is ruining lives.
For more than a year now, prosperity gospel churches have not been able to make as much money as they used to and that is threatening the survival of most such churches. Before the objective of spreading the word of God, these churches were basically established to make money. However, COVID-19 regulations limit both the number of congregants who can attend worship services and the number of services themselves.
The large numbers of people that attended these churches convinced the pastors that this business was a solid investment. Resultantly, they either built large churches or rented worship space in prime commercial areas. Drastically shortened worship hours and congregation size necessarily means that these churches are not making as much money as they used to pre-Covid.
In order to deal with this situation, some pastors began circumventing this legal requirement by going holding end-to-end services for different congregant groups (three in some instances) that can go up to six hours. The law prescribes two-hour services but these pastors rotate groups in and out, allocating two hours to each, to give the appearance of a single worship service. This happens mostly on Sundays – which is traditionally dedicated to worship – and when most congregants would be available for worship service. There are also after-work mid-week services but these are typically attended by far fewer congregants on account of crowded workweek schedules.
Sunday Standard learns that one of the pastors who was circumventing the law in the said manner himself suffered a severe case of Covid-19 not too long ago. He would have been at particular risk because the church interior was not fumigated.
The bigger problem for prosperity gospel though will be that the money that Botswana used to be awash in is no more. A few short months into the 2021/22 financial year, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development has announced that the government is cash-strapped. Civil servants who would split generous travel allowances between hospitality establishments they stayed in and prosperity gospel churches no longer have the luxury of doing so because the government has suspended days-long, out-of-station trips they periodically undertook to attend meetings. The private sector, which relies on the government for business, is keeping people it can’t afford to pay “employed” only for purposes of complying with a presidential decree.
In other words, there is no money that prosperity gospel needs to survive. One member says that her church’s pastor is forever trying to raise rent money for a large warehouse that the church rented during the good old times that may not be coming back any time soon.