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AT first glance, Madzibaba Matewu (born Alfred Mupfumbati) looks like any other ordinary member of one of the many Apostolic sects mushrooming across the country.
Barefoot and donning a simple white garment, Madzibaba Matewu smiled and laughed as he mingled with members of his Ungano Yevapostori Church.
Heads, however, turned the moment the 39-year-old self-styled prophet was whisked away in a brand-new top-of-the range vehicle.
“Who is that young man and why is he being chauffeur-driven? I wonder where these young men are getting all this money to buy such expensive cars,” a man who was passing through Madzibaba Matewu’s shrine could be heard saying.
Unbeknown to the passerby, the sleek vehicle actually belonged to the youthful self-styled prophet.
Until some few years ago, self-styled prophets and members of Apostolic sects were often looked down upon.
The majority of members of the “white garment” sects were viewed as backward, uneducated and poor.
In recent years, however, members of Apostolic sects have largely transformed themselves and are no longer being despised.
A tour of Apostolic sect shrines across Harare revealed that such places are now synonymous with grandeur and glamour.
Top-of-the range vehicles are now a permanent feature at some of the shrines.
One example of opulence is the Madzibaba Moses shrine in Highfield, Harare.
Here, posh cars are always littered around the place.
Apart from the expensive vehicles, the shrine has clean, modern and expensively furnished ablution facilities.
In an interview with this publication, Madzibaba Moses said the ablution facilities cost him US$50 000.
Apart from the luxury cars, a fleet of buses — reportedly owned by the sect leader — is always parked at the shrine.
Madzibaba Owen, a Chitungwiza-based sect leader recently drew national attention after coming to his shrine in a helicopter.
The self-styled prophet is on record saying, by coming to the place in a helicopter, he wanted to show the public that members of Apostolic sects are also rich.
Unlike in the past, when members conducted their services under the shade of trees, the majority of the sects are now constructing imposing church buildings.
Some of the members are now living in leafy suburbs such as Harare’s Borrowdale Brooke.
Madzibaba Herbert Shumbamhini, a former Member of Parliament for Mutoko South, is one of the many Apostolic sect members who has risen from humble beginnings.
“I grew up in poverty and, as members of an Apostolic sect, we were looked down upon. Through prayer and hard work, I was able to unchain the shackles of poverty,” said Shumbamhini, who now resides in the leafy Borrowdale Brooke suburb.
Madzibaba Matewu is among members of Apostolic sects who wriggled their way out of poverty through thriving enterprises they set up.
A humble and simple man, Madzibaba Matewu runs a number of businesses, chief among them a fleet of buses and cross-border trucks.
A man of few words, Madzibaba Matewu was not comfortable with discussing his business portfolio.
“The Bible speaks against showing off earthly possessions. All I can say is that I am getting enough for my family to live a comfortable life,” he said.
Madzibaba Matewu said gone are the days when most members of Apostolic sects were poor and lowly regarded.
“The trick lies in working hard. Even if one prays and fasts, without working hard, this will be in vain. Apart from being a prophet, I am also a businessman who invests time and resources into my businesses,” the 39-year-old said.
Moving with times
He urged other members of Apostolic sects to “move with the times”.
“I was among the first Apostolic sect leaders to allow congregants to sit on chairs during services. I was one of the first leaders to allow a live band during church services. As church members, we must move with the times,” he said.
He added that members of Apostolic sects, just like any other people, must enjoy the finer things in life.
Bishop Edward Masvingo, the founder of the Zion Church, says the faithful are not different from any other members of society.
He urged members to work hard and improve their lives.
“To my fellow Apostolic sect members, I say go out there, start businesses and make a lot of money. Buy nice cars and build good houses.”
“The Bible we believe in instructs us to do so,” Bishop Masvingo said.
Vapostori for ED, a group of members of Apostolic sects, is currently on a drive to encourage its members to participate in national development by venturing into mining and farming.
Information gathered by this paper revealed that most members of Apostolic sects are self-employed, with some of them running thriving income-generating projects.
Some members are investing in businesses when they return home from abroad.
Madzimai Susan, who is based in the United Kingdom, said gone are the days when members lived in abject poverty.
Bishop Cuthbert Nyaruvenda, the president of the Zimbabwe National Practitioners Association and founder of the Sangano Dzvene reVapostori Church, said education has helped transform the lives of many members of Apostolic sects.
“Some people think most members are not educated. This is not true. In our church, we have well-educated people who are gainfully employed,” he said.
The “Wicknell Chivhayo” effect
Some members told this publication that they were inspired by businessman Wicknell Chivhayo to come out of their shells and start businesses.
Chivhayo, who flaunts his wealth, is a member of an Apostolic sect.
“Before Chivhayo came along, I was of the view that members of Apostolic sects cannot make it big in business. As a mupostori, Chivhayo has ignited the hunger for success within Apostolic sects,” said Madzibaba Andrew of the Zambara Dzvene Apostolic Church.
Mr Munashe Sauti, an economist, said members of Apostolic sects now run thriving businesses.
“Most Apostolic sect members now run their own thriving businesses. Some of them have proved to be shrewd businesspeople, who can easily adjust to the economic realities,” Mr Sauti said.
It is clear that the once despised members of Apostolic sects are now determined to change the narrative.