Posted by: Titus Presler | December 14, 2009

Church disruptions continue in Harare Diocese in Advent 3

Police continued to disrupt Anglican worship in the Diocese of Harare on the Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 13, according to a text message received from Bp. Chad Gandiya on Dec. 13:

“Men’s guild (wabvuwi) all night disrupted last night.  Police preventing us at Kambuzuma where I’m due for a confirmation service.  Court hearing tomorrow at 10am about latest disturbances.  Pliz pray.”

The Wabvuwi are a men’s evangelistic order comparable to the Mothers Union, though not as numerous in membership.  The name means Fishermen, in reference to Jesus’ saying, “I will make you fishers of men.”  Their distinctive mark is a blue sash affixed with white crosses.  There was a large choir of wabvuwi at Bp. Gandiya’s consecration in Harare on July 26, most of them with the gourd rattles, call hwosho, which they tend to be very skilled in playing, so that the many rattles form an impressive choir of their own.  The “all night” reference in Bp. Gandiya’s note alludes to an all-night vigil, called pungwe, a frequent practice in Shona churches of almost all denominations, whether mission-founded or African-initiated, in which Christians stay up from dusk until dawn in revivals consisting of preaching, singing and praying, sometimes including dramas and even exorcisms.  The Wabvuwi‘s mapungwe are important in renewing the spiritual life of congregations and in evangelizing men.  The pungwe to which Bp. Gandiya referred would have begun at dusk Saturday night, Dec. 12, with the intention of continuing on through to 8 a.m. or so Sunday morning, likely ending in a eucharist.

Disruption of a pungwe is likely to be especially scandalous for Harare Anglicans, for it signifies the government’s determination to reach into the devotional and revivalistic life of the church beyond Sunday-morning liturgies.  The pungwe is a distinctive cultural custom, its deep roots in traditional religion having been appropriated and transformed by Christian practice.  Moreover, the pungwe movement in the churches has been a powerful vehicle of church renewal since the churches recovered the all-night tradition from the guerillas’ all-night mobilization rallies of the Liberation Struggle that brought majority rule to Zimbabwe in 1980.  So disruption of all-night vigils will be felt deeply as a blow to the church and as an especially egregious violation.  All-night meetings have also been used for political purposes on all sides of the governmental struggle in Zimbabwe, following the model of the wartime mobilization rallies, so it is possible that the government sees a political threat in nocturnal vigils in churches opposed to breakaway Bp. Nolbert Kunonga, long a supporter and beneficiary of President Robert Mugabe.  (For a book-length study of the vigil movement, see Transfigured Night: Mission and Culture in Zimbabwe’s Vigil Movement, published by the University of South Africa Press in 1999).

All Saints’ Church, Kambuzuma, where evidently Bp. Gandiya’s confirmation service was threatened yesterday, was featured in a blog posting last week on the continuing conflict in Harare Diocese.



  1. The vigil is also common in Kenya – more so in the Anglican Church – it is called “Kesha” – the Swahili word for vigil. They are a source of renewal and should be encouraged.

    • Thank you for this comment, for I am very interested in researching night vigils elsewhere in Africa, including Kenya. I would look forward to further correspondence about this in the future.

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