Satanic Panic Outbreak in Zambia

Several days ago, the BBC carried a curious report from Zambia (link added):

Zambia’s government has banned the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God after allegations that the church was involved in satanic rituals.

Police have been deployed to guard all its church buildings to prevent members from assembling.

Over the weekend, people in the capital went on the rampage after rumours that two people had been kidnapped by the sect. One church was burnt down.

Senior UCKG officials have refused to comment on the allegations and ban.

“The decision has been precipitated to allow for investigations into allegations, which we consider serious,” Home Affairs Secretary Peter Mumba told reporters on Tuesday, AFP reports.

In the Lusaka Post, Mumba adds that there is “something fishy” with the church, but admits that a claimed mortuary under the church building is in fact a car park.

Meanwhile, the Pagan Prattle logs a sequel to these events in Kanyama, just outside Lusaka:

Kanyama residents yesterday shunned the HIV/AIDS voluntary, counselling and testing (VCT) preliminary HIV/AIDS function, for fear that their blood samples would be used for Satanism purposes.

Kanyama Member of Parliament Henry Mtonga said HIV/AIDS counsellors had faced resistance from the people in the area following last Saturday’s riots in which a church was accused of practising Satanism.

Mtonga added:

…it was important for people to distinguish between blood samples meant for VCT and those that were meant for alleged Satanism activities.

But why weren’t these claims “investigated” conclusively back in 1998, the last time the church was closed down? Anthropologist Rosalind Hackett has a very useful article on demonization in Africa available as a pdf. She notes that:

In Zambia, former church members of the Brazilian Pentecostal church, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, publicly alleged that ritual murderers operated from within the church with members being required to donate blood for satanic rituals. Similar indictments have been leveled at the Unification Church of Reverend Sun Myung Moon in Zambia by the Pentecostal churches there (Chanda, 2000: 1024).

A footnote adds:

After three years of operation in the country, the movement was proscribed (under section 17 of the Societies Act) in 1998 on the grounds that it had not operated ‘within the laws of the land’. See Namasiku Ilukena, ‘Zambia Church Banned for “Satanism”‘, Mail and Guardian, 9 September 1998. It is interesting that the public accusation of ‘satanism’ (as with accusations of’ ‘witchcraft’) had to be translated into a more neutral legal violation.

So why has this come around again, and why are people still shunning medical treatments over fears of Satanic blood rituals? And how come no-one in the media can think back seven years?

Zambian fear of Satanism has been around for a while. Back in 1997 Zambia News Online overviewed the subject, beginning with testimonies from a couple of alleged Satanic escapees. Just like the way Satanic panic in the west began with stories from self-styled “Satanic survivors” such as Mike Warnke, things snowballed from there (emphasis added):

“This message first came in February,” says Christian Unity Ministries (CUMI), national secretary Timothy Situmbeko of the alleged plot by Satanists to take over Zambia and destroy Christian institutions in Zambia. “We hesitated to tell the people about it, but continued to pray. Then early this month it was repeated.” He added that there had been at least one Satanist planted in some of the many born-again churches in an effort to derail the Christian faith and cause divisions.

Africa Church of God leader, Bishop John Mambo agrees that there is a plot to destroy Christianity in Zambia. He contends that many cults have been formed in the disguise of churches and already deep divisions are beginning to show among the Christians.

Police spokesman Standwell Lungu says that there is no law that would bar Satanists from practising their faith, but the concern of many Christians is that the devil’s faith is said to include human sacrifices.

“Christians must be ready for attacks from the devil,” Zambia Episcopal Conference Secretary General, Father Ignatius Mwebe says.

Politicians also jumped on the bandwagon:

The National Democratic Party (NDP) recently stated that the MMD government was not doing enough to curb the spread of Satanism. NDP Copperbelt Province chairman Isaac Chileshe said that government should investigate increasing reports of Satanism taking root in Zambia. The party contends that the seeds of Satanism were being planted by foreigners and it demands that the government deports those involved.

Zambia was famously declared to be a “Christian nation” back in 1991. A few years later Venkatesh Seshamani of the University of Zambia recalled

…the attempt, very soon after Chiluba made his Declaration, to ban Islamic programmes from television and radio. Besides one cannot forget the Livingstone episode a few years ago in which the Hindu temple and the Islamic mosque were destroyed.

These events may not be directly linked to the Declaration and may have been caused by other motives. But the danger that all non-Christian religious or spiritual practices may be branded as dangerous or as satanic cults cannot be ruled out.

The last two pages of Hackett’s essay outline possibilities for why Satanic discourses are so popular in Africa:

…For a leading member of the Christian Council of Kenya the ‘rise of satanism’ can explain not just cannibalism and human sacrifice, but also drug abuse, rape, kidnaping, divorce, and ghastly road and train accidents.28 Is this not a form of externalization, of not assuming responsibility for problems, and unscrupulously manipulating popular opinion? A classic example of this would be former Zambian President Chiluba’s claim that in declaring Zambia a Christian nation in 1991 he ‘provoked the devil’ who had been fighting him ever since, and causing him many political and economic problems.

More generally, Hackett concludes:

…Much more research needs to be done on the multivalency of the satanic paradigm in contemporary African contexts, its communicative networks, its gendered aspects, and implicit political and social critique.

By both scholars and journalists, one might add – and the odd blogger.

UPDATE: The Swazi Observer gives further details about the church in southern Africa:

Madagascar banned the church in February this year and jailed four senior officials for the burning of bibles.

…Despite a wide outcry by Christians in South Africa over the church, local pastors said they were not aware of its alleged wayward activities.

…The church is said to have established itself in 22 countries in Africa.

Articles that taint its image have also been written in neighbouring Mozambique and American newspapers, linking it to money laundering and drug-smuggling. All have been refuted by the church and several investigations have come to naught.

The South African Star Newspaper said the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa (TEASA) said it was investigating the church for its alleged uncouth practices.

Namibia, meanwhile, is refusing to act against the church – see my entry here.

4 Responses

  1. […] covered this at the time; the allegation was that the church was a front for Satanists. However: [Said Home Affairs […]

  2. […] Prophecy Today is published by Clifford Hill, a Charismatic prophet who also blamed a 1989 plane crash on witches; his “evidence” was a vision he’d had. And while the US and the UK have now got over the hysteria, the legacy of this fundamentalist Christian paranoia is still being played out in countries as diverse as Cyprus and Zambia. […]

  3. […] cults performing unspeakable crimes with impunity, while the panic flares up periodically in other parts of the […]

  4. 2 Corinthians 12-28

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