O level Notes : FRS - Distribution of religions in Zimbabwe

This topic looks at the distribution of various religions in Zimbabwe and these religions include Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Indigenous  religions among other religions in the world.

The topic will also account for the reasons why the distribution of various religions varies from one place to the other. The topic will explain the membership of major religions in Zimbabwe and give reasons for membership.




In Zimbabwe, religions are distributed across the nation although some religions dominate in one area while in another area may not be existent. Christianity is the dominant religion in Zimbabwe  with an average of

87%, Indigenous  religion follows with 4% and is practiced everywhere around the country, Islam has 0.9%

of followers and Judaism has 0.1% of followers.

Geographical distribution of religions in Zimbabwe


Geographical distribution of religion refers to the actual places where religions are found. So, geographical distribution of religions in Zimbabwe  describes the way in which the religions are spread out across the country in terms of their beliefs and practices. The distribution is viewed as uneven and there are often considerable  changes  over periods. Zimbabwe  enjoys freedom of worship  as there are no strict laws against  practicing  of different religions. This has affected the geographical distribution  of religions  in Zimbabwe  as every religion is represented in almost every locality.

As previously explained, there are a variety of religions in Zimbabwe which include Christianity, Indigenous religion, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism  and Buddhism. These religions  are not uniformly distributed across Zimbabwe.


1. Indigenous Religion (IR)


Indigenous  religion is a religion that originated with the great ancestors of the native land and has been passed down from one generation to the other through oral tradition. Zimbabwe  has various indigenous groups of people with different tribes which include Shona, Ndebele, Venda, Tonga, Xangani, Kalanga and Sotho whose religious beliefs and practices were inherited from the ancestors of these tribes. Therefore,

Indigenous  religion is widely spread across the country because tribes and clans settled in various places along tribal lines or clan line.


Indigenous   religion  in  Zimbabwe   is  dominant  in most  rural areas than  in  towns.  The  Xangani  are dominant  in the south  eastern lowveld, the Ndau dominate  in  the  Chipinge   area,  the  Karanga  are found in Nyajena, Chivi, Mberengwa, Chirumhanzu, Gutu and Zaka while the Korekore native people are found in Mutoko. The Zezuru  people  are found in Murehwa, the Ndebele are dominating  in the whole of Matabeleland region and some parts of Midlands like Mberengwa, the Sotho  are found  in Plumtree while  the Venda  people  are found  dominating  in Beitbridge.  The Tonga  people are found along  the Zambezi basin in Binga.

The dominance of Indigenous  religion along tribal lines in different areas shows that in every community where the African clan is found, there is Indigenous religion. Indigenous religion is under the custodianship of religious  practitioners like diviners or healers (n’anga), chiefs (mambo/nkosi), headmen, village  heads, elders of the society and aunts. They preserve the Indigenous religion through traditional laws, myths and taboos. This religion is found in the people’s culture and tradition. It is because of this that the Indigenous religion does not have missionaries and let alone recorded headquarters like other religions. To add on, Indigenous religion is based on oral tradition. It is spread and conserved through oral tradition.


2. Christianity


Christianity is widely spread in Zimbabwe. The churches (Christian places of worship) are found in almost every Zimbabwean  community. This has led Zimbabwe  to be dominated  by Christianity  as a result of colonialism  which used Christianity as a mechanism  to colonise the indigenous  people. Colonialism  was further strengthened by the legislative framework which emphasised freedom of worship which led to the propagation of Christianity in every corner of Zimbabwe.


It is dominant  in urban areas than rural areas where people cherish their indigenous  religious practices. However, Christian flags have been raised in many areas as evidenced by the construction of schools, colleges and universities in the country by various denominations. For example, the church  institutions  include Mukaro Mission of the Catholic Church, Solusi University of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Chegato of the Evangelical Lutheran church, Africa University of the United Methodist Church, Howard Mission of the Salvation Army Church as well as Gutu Mission of the Reformed Church in Zimbabwe.


In terms of distribution, the Reformed Church in Zimbabwe dominates Masvingo province. This is evidenced by the presence of missionary centres established by the Reformed Church in Zimbabwe  like Pamushana mission in Bikita, Jichidza Mission in Zaka, Gutu Mission in Gutu, Mogernster Mission in Masvingo and Zimuto Mission in Masvingo. This shows that Masvingo is the stronghold  of the Reformed Church in Zimbabwe although it is found in other areas. The Roman Catholic Church is a church which dominates in every corner of the country as compared to other churches. In Masvingo there is Gokomere mission, Berejena Mission, Serima, Silveira Mission and  Musiso Mission while  in the Midlands  province  there is Hama Mission. In Mashonaland West there is Kutama Mission.


In Mashonaland West there is also Chegutu  Primary School, St Dominic  High  School  in Chishawasha. In Bulawayo there is St Bernard High  School  in Pumula and Christian Brothers College.   In Harare there is Dominican  Convent  in Harare. It is because of this reason that one may say the Roman Catholic Church

is well distributed in Zimbabwe  possibly because it is the richest church which had enough  resources to establish its churches and missionary centres in every corner of the country.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church dominates mainly in Midlands and Matabeleland region. Solusi is the citadel of the Adventist  church  in Zimbabwe. However, it is spread out in various places in Zimbabwe although  Matabeleland and Midlands remain dominating  areas for Seventh Day Adventist. In Masvingo they dominate Mashapa area in Renco Mine, Mafuba and Mundondo area. In these areas the church has managed to construct schools.

The Lutheran Evangelical      Mission   Church   in Zimbabwe  dominates  some areas in Matabeleland South    and    Midlands    region    like    Mberengwa where  they  have  established  mission  schools  like Chegato  Mission in  Mberengwa,  Munene  Mission in Mberengwa, Masase Mission in Mberengwa, Musume Mission in Mberengwa and Manama Mission in Gwanda.

The Church of Christ is a church which is also found in Masvingo mainly. It has Dewure Mission, Mashoko Mission, Chiredzi Christian College and Masvingo Christian College. The Church also dominates in theMidlands  area  around  Zvishavane   like  Dayadaya where they have a mission school.

The Marange Apostolic Church dominates some parts of Manicaland like Buhera in Bocha where the founder of the church came from. Although the church is found in every part of Zimbabwe, it is heavily concentrated in Buhera. They have established Saint Noah Mission School in Bocha. The Johane Masowe apostolic church is found in some parts of the country. Although the church has split into several sects, it is now dominating in many towns because of its ability to diagnose  and solve human problems like bareness, illness which comes through  witchcraft and other problems. The African apostolic  Sabbath  church is another church which is found mainly in Gutu area as well as other places.

The Zion Christian Church (ZCC) is another church that is found in Zimbabwe  and it dominates mostly in rural places. Its headquarters is at Mbungo and this makes the church more dominant in Bikita and Zaka. The church also dominates in the midlands  area particularly in Gokwe where the founder of the church relocated to. The places surrounding Defe are dominated by followers of this church.

The Salvation  Army dominates  in Mashonaland West in Sanyati area as well as Mashonaland Central in places like Mazowe. They have established mission schools which include Howard, Bradley and Mazowe. This is because the first missionary from that church settled in Mashonaland central. Guta Ra Jehovha  is another church which is found dominating  in Zvimba, Zimunya, Mhondoro, Harare, Bulawayo and many other places. Guta Ra Jehovha was founded by Mai Chaza and the church later split to form Guta Ra Mwari in 1961.

3. Judaism

Jews who first settled in Zimbabwe were merchants and captains of industry. These people settled in cities for the support of their businesses that is why today Jewish communities are mostly found in and around cities. They are mainly found in cities like Harare, Bulawayo, Kwekwe and Gweru because of economic reasons. This is substantiated by the fact that the first Jewish synagogues were built in Harare and Bulawayo respectively.

The head offices of the Jewish religion in Zimbabwe are in Harare. This is where the offices of their leader or director are located. There are also some scattered synagogues in these cities and towns were the Jews meet and worship Yahweh.


However, Judaism  is also found  in rural areas like Mberengwa in the Midlands where the Remba people who are believed to be the lost tribe of Israel are found. As such, they dominate in the Midlands region  where  Judaism  is  not  only  a  religion  but a culture. Furthermore, Judaism is also found concentrating   in  Mapakomhere   in  Masvingo   as well as in Chinyika area in Gutu. ThIs is because the Remba people are settled there. Judaism has been spreading to various places because of evangelism.


4. Islam


Just like the Jews, most Muslims are business people and are found in big cities near their businesses. In Zimbabwe, towns and cities are the strongholds  of Islam because mosques are located near these towns. These cities and towns include  Harare, Bulawayo, Kwekwe, Chiredzi, Masvingo  and Gweru. Islam is also witnessed in Chinhoyi, there are about six mosques in Chinhoyi. This clearly shows the penetration of Islam in the area. Both Muslims of Arab and African origin are found in these areas because they came for business creation and seeking employment respectively. Some of the prominent Muslims in the business sector in major towns are Ali and Khan of Masvingo, Muhammad Musa of Harare and many others.


It should be noted that, many indigenous  followers of  Islam   in   Zimbabwe   are  of  Malawian  origin who were mainly  employed  in mining  towns. It is because  of this reason that Islam is found  heavily concentrated in mining towns like Mhangura, Renco mine, Zvishavane, Bindura and Buchwa area among other places.


Although  Islam dominates  in most  mining  towns, it has also been spreading  into rural areas.  Islam is making  in-roads in rural areas such as Chinyika  in Gutu where they have constructed  a school.  Zaka in Masvingo has also an Islamic centre which shows the influence of Islam in Masvingo rural.  In Mvurwi, Islam has also made some inroads where they have constructed schools, an orphanage centre and a youth trainingcentre. Mosques have been built in the areas where Islam has been launched. Evangelism has played a major role in the distribution of Islam in  rural areas.  In Goromonzi,  Islam  is also  having an impact  as evidenced  by  the construction  of a mosque.


The membership of religions has fluctuated over the years. Some membership has risen whilst others have declined. Political changes have also contributed to the rise and decline of these religions.


(a) Indigenous  religion


Many reasons have attributed to the decline of IR membership since 1980:

  • The school curriculum on Religious Studies had been side-lining IR, as it was not adequately covered.

This is largely because the Zimbabwean government inherited a colonial religious studies curriculum

which was Christ centred and denigrated African spirituality and religiosity.

  • The interaction between Zimbabwe and the world has led to the erosion of indigenous  religious beliefs. People tend to ignore and do away with indigenous  beliefs. Some now view indigenous beliefs as primitive and archaic.
  • Some people  have even left their rural homes  in search for greener pastures where they have interacted with other religions. This has led to the abandonment of indigenous practices and beliefs as people embrace new religions found away from home.
  • Colonisation of the mind  has led to the total abandonment  of Indigenous  religion.  Indigenous people have been socialised to condemn everything that is African especially African beliefs as evil, fetish or magical as a result of colonial indoctrination.


Indigenous  religion is not a monolithic  body as it has various dimensions  which are clan based or tribal based. As such, Indigenous religion in the Zimbabwean  context refers to the religious beliefs and practices of the Karanga, Zezuru, Ndau, Tonga, Venda, Xangani, Ndebele, Sotho, Tswana and other people found in Zimbabwe. These people have unique religious beliefs and practices although they all believe in ancestors.


It is important to note that Africans have become more syncretic as they practice Indigenous  religion and

Christianity side by side. This has led to the mixing of religious beliefs and practices thereby leading to dual

membership  of Indigenous  religion  and Christianity respectively. This is evidenced  by the   belief in the existence of spirits like avenging  spirits, the practises of bringing  back ritual (kurova guva or umbuyiso). This is common in African Independent Churches which do not condemn the indigenous  religious and cultural practises.


There are some who are conservative as they believe that embracing other religions is denying one’s own identity. African identity is at the centre of this conservatism and religion plays an important role in shaping and maintaining  African identity. Furthermore, the coming  of the new curriculum is meant to reclaim the lost African identity which has been institutionalised  from independence. The New Curriculum through learning areas which include Family and Religious Studies and Heritage Studies has led to the appreciation of indigenous religious and cultural practises.


(b) Christianity


Christianity  has  the  largest  membership  in Zimbabwe. It is composed  of Catholics, Protestants who include the Anglicans, Salvation Army, Seventh Day Adventist church, the Lutherans and Reformist and   African   Initiated   churches   like   ZAOGA   FIF, Zion  Christian  Church, Johanne  Masowe, Johanne Marange, African  Apostolic  Sabbath  church (Mwazha) and Guta RaJehova. The last group of Christians are the new religious movements  which include the Prophetic Healing deliverance Ministries of Walter Magaya, The United Family International Church of Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa and The Goodness and Mercy Ministries of Prophet T. Freddy among others.

There is about 10 million members to date. Between the years 2000 -2009, there was a decrease due to migration to other neighbouring countries in search of  greener  pastures.  The  removal  of  restrictions on registration of churches saw an increase in registered  Christian  denominations.  This  has seen a wave of new Christian movements being  formed by various Christian leaders across the country. The right to freedom of worship which is enshrined in the Zimbabwean  Constitution  has also played a crucial role in the rise of many  churches  in the Christian circles. People have the freedom to belong  to any religion, as such, it has given Christianity and other religions  an opportunity  to expand  their religious horizons.  This in turn has increased membership of Christianity across the country.

From another perspective, some Christian denominations  are preaching  messages  known  as the gospel  of prosperity. This gospel  addresses the challenges  which most people would be facing. At the same time, it will be offering solutions to these problems. Most people  have been converted  to different Christian sects. Therefore, there has been an increase in membership in Christianity.

New strategies have been put in place by different Christian denominations  for example the media. The radio, television  and social media has aided Christian denominations  to boost their membership.  New radio programmes giving  testimonies of people receiving different kinds of healing have also aided in the increase of Christian membership for example on Radio Zimbabwe  and Star FM. New television channels have been introduced  to spread the Christian message  for instance, Christ TV, Yadah  TV and Christian Television Network among others.

(c) Judaism


In Zimbabwe, the Jewish community once had a population which reached about 7 000 members. However, there has been a decrease in the number of members due to migration which has witnessed the number of members reducing  to a few hundreds. Jews are known to be business people and have migrated for business opportunities and studies. Some Jews have migrated to Israel for marriage purposes and cultural reasons. Failure to conduct outreach programs has also led to the decline of membership in Judaism as they are failing to recruit new members. More than two-thirds of the Jewish community are 65 years or older. The religious practices of Judaism are also a hindrance for many people joining the religion, for instance the practice of circumcision. It is this reason that so many black people shun joining this religion because one has to be circumcised first.

Members of Judaism  are largely distributed in Harare and Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. There are communal centers in Harare and Bulawayo which are being led by the Jewish Board of Deputies. The Jewish community has established schools, Carmel in Bulawayo and Sharon in Harare. However, despite the implementation of the schools, the number of Jews enrolled at these schools remains very low.

(d) Islam

The Muslims arrived in Zimbabwe  and settled around mining  areas and some have settled in towns and cities like Harare, Bulawayo, Kwekwe, Chiredzi and Masvingo just to mention a few. It is slowly infiltrating rural areas like Gutu, Zaka and Mvurwi. There are about 50 000 - 500 000 Muslims in Zimbabwe. Islam is recorded as the third largest religion after Christianity and IR in terms of membership.


Worldwide, Islam is growing but membership in Zimbabwe is not growing as fast as in other countries. This maybe a result of stiff competition from IR and Christianity.


The other reason for slow infiltration is because of negative attitude towards Islam because of its fundamentalism which lead to Holy wars (Jihads). As a mitigation measure, Islam has established schools in various communities like Chinyika and Mvurwi to make people appreciate its religious values and practices.


Furthermore, information centres have been established    to    educate    people    about    Islam and vocational training centres have also been established through the Direct Aid Africa Muslim Agency in places like Gumbo in Zaka and Mvurwi to increase membership of Muslims in Zimbabwe. This shows that Islam is a religion like any other religion which does not only cater for spiritual needs of people but also for the development  of the society in which it operates in.