With an estimated 10 to 13 million members, the Zion Christian Church or ZCC is the largest African-initiated church in Southern Africa with congregations gathering 3 times per week in the remotest little settlements all over South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, southern Zimbabwe and Botswana. Each year during Easter Holidays millions of members bus en-masse to Zion City around Mount Moria east of Polokwane.
The church was founded by Engenas Lekganyane in 1910 after he received a vision from God. Engenas’ son Edward inherited the leadership in 1948. He was a highly educated, flamboyant figure and in contrast to his father, he relied less on oral testimony in services and moved more towards a biblically-based doctrine. On a farm east of Polokwane that his father had purchased during the 1940s he began to organise annual pilgrimages to Zion City which has now grown into a massive southern African-wide event where pilgrims have been addressed by the likes of Nelson Mandela and many eminent African leaders in the past.
A message of peace
Edward’s two sons now each lead a section of the church. Bishop Barnabas’ members wear a silver five-pointed star –badge and Saint Engenas members wear a similar badge with a dove. These badges of honor are worn every day and symbolize spirituality, healing power and full membership. The church preaches a message of peace and always start their greetings with the words ‘kgotso e be lena’ meaning “peace be unto you.”
Characteristics of ZCC
The ZCC fuses African traditions with Christian values and is independent in terms of theological and dogmatic approach. The use of different traditions for faith and healing include the laying-on of hands, the use of holy water, the drinking of blessed tea and coffee and the wearing of blessed cords or colour cloths.
Colours symbolizes different callings
The colors of the church are green and yellow. Church uniform differ according to the state and gender of members and occasions. Men wear khakis for dancing and green suits for church services. Young women wear blue for church services and khaki for choir practices. Women may not touch, wash or iron a man’s uniform and vice versa.
To sing and dance the soul of Africa
To sing and dance is as natural to Africans as breathing – we sing and dance in times of joy, anger, sorrow and praise. Travellers to the remotest corners of Limpopo may find rural congregations gathering under a tree in their colourful regalia on Sundays. If lucky one may also witness the energetic dancing and singing circles of congregations along the roads. (In general photos are not allowed but watching, listening or partaking is welcomed with open arms). ZCC members are in general very commited and dedicated to their communities and will walk very far for various church gatherings.
In rural Limpopo specifically, many ZCC churches does not have or need a building. Members mostly gather under a huge, shady tree, if possible close to a river as baptism is to be done in flowing water. The church adheres to baptism by immersion and believes in the healing power of water.
The Mokhukhu dance
The Mokhukhu dance is the most well known musical activity of the church, together with the ZCC brass bands and the Mpogo prayer song. The dancing and singing is part of the rich, mainly oral culture of African lyrics, idioms and proverbs and is often accompanied by poetry. The all-male Mokhukhu wear khakis, police-style hats, the Star badge and sing and jump as high as they can during this rhythmic worship dance. To participate in this form of dance, a man needs to be fit, because it involves a lot of jumping up and down often for a whole night long.
The dance is regarded above all as a form of healing, as it penetrates into the being of a person who worships and also serves as therapy to resolve problems in everyday life, relieving stress and depression. The fact that the Zion Christian Church is not only a place of worship but also a place of healing has made it a strong church with a very large following. (Moripe 2004:15).
This is a hymn sung by everyone in the Zion Christian Church. This ritual prayer-song is very long and can go on for two to three hours, normally sung when there are issues that need to be addressed by the church, individuals or families. The words of this song are simply “Mpogo” and nothing more.
Moripe, S 2004. Mokhukhu. Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae, 30(2), 12-21. Lazarus Lebeloane Department of Further Teacher Education, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa. Mokhele Madise Department of Church History, Christian Spirituality and Missiology, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa.