Zakaria Balele was born in the village of Kisesa, Mwanza in Tanzania. His father’s language was Kisukuma, but he learned to speak Kiswahili, which later came to be the country’s national language.
Growing up he wanted to practice witchcraft. This “trade” cost him his eye during one of his practices. Then he heard of missionaries teaching people how to read and write and joined a nearby “school” to be able to keep a record of his business.
He was the husband of one wife named Rhoda Luhunga. It is said that Zakaria was married to another wife before he met Rhoda. Whether his first wife died or divorced him hasn’t been established. Zakaria and Rhoda had eight children: Stephano Zakaria Balele, Kwikalwa Tirza Zakaria (woman), Milka Zakaria (woman), Nyanjige Zakaria (woman), Tiras Zakaria, Onesmo Zakaria, Ruth Zakaria (woman), Maria Zakaria (woman). Their children all married and gave them several grandchildren as well: Zakaria Tiras Balele, Malesiana Zakaria, and Esther Zakaria Balele, to name just a few of them.
In 1918, he accepted Christ at a village called Igogo, Mwanza. It is not known when he felt called to the ministry, but, following his conversion, he desired only one thing: “to tell others of Jesus Christ.” He read the Bible with hunger. He joined the Africa Inland Church and became one of the most dynamic preachers the Africa Inland Church has ever known to this day. He was a fiery preacher who fearlessly rebuked sinful behavior without flinching. He declined to go to Bible school for reasons known only to him. Later, he started a church at Kizumbi, Shinyanga and made it a point to travel to different places preaching the gospel.
He is credited for translating the Bible into his native language, Kisukuma. On page 48 of the booklet A Short History of the Church (AICT) published in 1977, there is a picture of Zakaria Balele receiving a copy of the Kisukuma Bible, which he translated, from the AICT bishop, Jeremiah Mahalu Kisula.
Bela B. Kalumbete
Muhtasari wa Historia ya Kanisa, (A Short History of the AICT Church), edited by Bishop Samwel Magessa (Mwanza: Inland Publishers, 1977), 48.
Machibya, Rev. S. K., interview by the author, November 2000, Mwanza.
Njuka, Anna Nkomba, interview by the author, November 2000, Mwanza.
Nungwana, Rev. Daniel, interview by the author, November 2000, Mwanza.
This article was researched and written by Bela B. Kalumbete, a Project Luke Fellow associated with the Africa Inland Church, Tanzania.