“Some proposed that the constitution should establish Botswana as a Christian nation in view of the fact that about 80 percent of the population aligned themselves with Christianity,” says the Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Review of the Constitution of Botswana in relation to submissions made to it last year. “Zambia was cited as an example of a country that has been declared a Christian nation.”
Of interest is the percentage figure that is repeatedly quoted to estimate the number of Christians in Botswana. It is unclear how it has been arrived at but in some instances, members of the public are required to state their religion when dealing with officialdom. During the 2021 national lockdown, social workers went from house to house assessing which households needed to be provided with food rations. One of the questions the social workers asked was what religion people living in a household were. There would be many more similar exercises through which people are asked to state their religion. However, the responses can’t be relied upon.
Going back to the days of David Livingstone and Robert Moffat, a huge part of evangelising Africans has taken the form of stigmatising Ancestor Worship with crude, dehumanising language. One aspect of this was racism because despite their declarations, practically all missionaries were unreconstructed racists and some of that racism shows in their writings. Ironically, in embracing Christianity, the evangelised also embraced the language of racism that was used to evangelise them. The result has been that centuries after the death of Livingstone and Moffat, some evangelised Africans continue to demonise the worship of Ancestral Spirit Guardians.
Years ago, Btv invaded the homestead of a popular traditional doctor in Extension 12, Gaborone. The story was that he was among such doctors who were not paying taxes and the reporter wanted to illustrate it with people lined up in the front yard waiting to consult the doctor. Most of those people scurried for cover because they didn’t want the nation to know that they believed in a religion that Christianity has demonised.
If nothing else, this incident showed that a good many of the evangelised also turn to Ancestral Spirit Guardians when they feel that Christianity is inadequate for their needs. During his first ritual-bath waterboarding a little way from the Broadhurst Cemetery in Gaborone, the writer espied at least two observant Christians undergoing the same ritual. Undergoing that ritual for the first time is unusually challenging but the two Christians in question took to it like a duck to water. One was running for elective office for the committee of a sporting body and had evidently deemed prayers to be inadequate.
At the Gaborone station is a shop called Discount Cash & Carry, which sells a wide array of traditional herbal potions. On any given day, the shop’s narrow aisles are overflowing with customers – some of them Christians.
At an institutional level, some churches (“spiritual churches” as they are called) have formally and openly fused Christianity and Ancestor Worship. Their priests are happy to quote scripture while performing Ancestor Worship rituals on mystical hills or in large bodies of water. While some members of these churches will identify as Christian and will be officially classified as such, they also belong to another religion.
That elemental fact is not acknowledged by religious leaders who, according to the Report, “submitted that Botswana is a Christian country as evidenced by the higher percentages of Christians in the country. Over and above, many meetings began and ended with a prayer demonstrating that indeed the country was Christian faith oriented.”
Historically, Abrahamic religions have always had a superiority complex – European missionaries threw in cultural arrogance (racism really) to arbitrarily assert the superiority of Christianity over Ancestor Worship. There is still baseless belief that Christianity is superior to Ancestor Worship.
The numbers’ game played by those who seek to officialise Christianity overlooks the fact that in the larger scheme of things, numbers are ultimately meaningless. Jesus teachings were about moral purity – which most Christian struggle with. While church membership is on the rise, the amount of goodness in society is on the decline and among the culprits are men of the cloth themselves. Sunday Standard has reported the case of a Nigerian priest whose ministry was largely characterised by sexual predation exacted on the beauty-queen section of the pews and dereliction of parental duty to the children he sired with the female congregants that he impregnated. As of this writing, a Seventh Day Adventist Church pastor is on trial for the murder of a prostitute whose services he allegedly used. Online there is a slew of prosperity gospel pastors doing the most despicable things in the name of God. In the final analysis, the question is not how many adherents of a religion there are but whether they are truly what they profess to be.
Even among Christians themselves, there is realisation that the proliferation of churches doesn’t correspond with similar increase in the amount of goodness in society. Resultantly, some submitted to the Commission that this phenomenon should be nipped in the bud. Interestingly, the Commission makes a recommendation that would revive proposed legislation that former Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Edwin Batshu, tabled before parliament in 2015. His original intent was to set 250 as the minimum requirement for registering a church. Following public outcry, he reduced the figure to 150. The Report recommends increasing the number to 250 “in order to control the alarming proliferation of churches in the country.”