According to section nine of the booklet entitled “Rungano rweZion Christian Church in Rhodesia,” Samuel Mutendi was born to Makuwa, son of Mudengezerwa who was the son of Chirume Mushavi who lived at Great Zimbabwe. Chirume Mushavi was born to Dlembeu, the first son of Chief Chirisamhuru of Matopos. This means that Samuel Mutendi was of the “Moyo wavaRozvi” or heart totem. His father Makuwa was one of King Chikore’s vice regents and a traditionalist who later was converted to the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC). This history shows that Mutendi was a member of the Rozvi royal family and grew up in the Dutch Reformed Church.
Samuel Mutendi was born in Zaka at Mount Havunga under the chieftainship of Chipinda, the year Chief Chikore of Zaka District, in Masvingo Province, was raided by the Ndebele people. After the battle, Makuwa set up his homestead that shared borders with three chiefs: Chipinda, Muroyi, and Marozva. It was at this homestead that Samuel Mutendi was born. The current Zion Christian Church (ZCC) bishop, Nehemiah Mutendi, explicitly said that his father was born in July 1890 and that:
My father was born a premature baby. His grandmother who was the midwife wanted to bury him but they discovered that he was blinking. He was then taken to the goat’s pen to stay there since the place was warm to the extent that it could sustain the life of a premature baby. A month later he was taken from the goats’ pen back home where he was subsequently named Tongotendaziso.
The name Tongotendaziso is a combination of two Karanga words—tenda meaning “thanks” and ziso meaning “eye.” Therefore tongotendaziso literally means “Thanks-to-the-eye” or “Believe-the-eye.” The name was derived from the fact that he was saved by his blinking eyes. Later on, people shortened his name to Tendeziso. Sydney Mutendi, the son of Samuel Mutendi, who is currently headman under Chief Sahi in Gokwe South District, further explained: “It was our grandmother who gave him the name Mutendi though she had no idea that one day he would grow up to be a ‘believer.’ So when he was baptized in the Dutch Reformed Church he was named Samuel Mutendi Makuwa.” Thus, the current name Samuel Mutendi is the Christian name for Tendeziso Makuwa.
When he grew up, Mutendi was taken by his relatives of the Gumunyu family to Bikita District. He took the national identity card in 1908. At that time, Chief Tochipi was reigning under the Mkanganwi dynasty. According to ZCC tradition, Samuel Mutendi had a belligerent character and always wanted to fight with others while herding cattle. Even at beer parties, he would wreak havoc. In Bikita, he survived as a master farmer and attended the Dutch Reformed Church regularly. During his lifetime, Mutendi married seventeen wives and had more than seventy children.
In 1913, Samuel Mutendi joined the British South Africa Police (BSAP) and served as a police officer for nine years. It was during his tenure as a police officer that he received his first calling in June 1913 in Hartley (Chegutu) when he was on patrol. He saw a vision of the angel Gabriel who said to him, “Behold I tell you that you will set up a church in your tribal land.” This vision terrified him but encouraged him to devote himself to prayer. In 1919, Samuel Mutendi dreamed he was talking to God and was reminded of the 1913 vision. Again, he was terrified and he continued to devote himself to prayer and fasting.
At times, as a policeman, he would go with the prisoners to hear the word of God in the Dutch Reformed Church. Meanwhile, the dream angel revealed himself several times. At last, he dreamed that he was at a high place accompanied by many children of different races carrying bundles of grass on their heads. These children put their bundles of grass around Mutendi. He narrated his dream to one of his fellow police officers called Rarimoni Murevi. Like Joseph in the Old Testament, Rarimoni interpreted Mutendi’s dream saying. “Your dream signifies that you will become a leader of a large church congregation comprised of different nationalities.”
Rarimoni’s interpretation confirmed Mutendi’s vision-dream of 1913. According to Rev. Mutema, Samuel Mutendi’s vision-dream could be likened to that of Joseph in Genesis 37:5. According to this passage, Joseph shared his dreams with his brothers but they were not happy with what they revealed. Like Joseph, Mutendi’s relatives were not happy with the things he was promised in his dreams.
In 1921, Samuel Mutendi resigned from the British South Africa Police in Chegutu and went back home. In Bikita, he was employed at the DRC Gumunyu School as a teaching assistant. At this school, he started preaching about fire baptism. He also urged people to sing choruses, dance, and pray on their own rather than follow written prayers in the DRC hymnals. He supported his teachings with Biblical passages such as Psalm 150. At that time, mass prayer, the beating of drums and other musical instruments, and dancing were not allowed in the Dutch Reformed Church. For this reason, Mutendi faced a lot of opposition from DRC ministers.
As a result, Mutendi decided to travel to South Africa in search of a job. Before traveling, he preached from Genesis 28:11 about the journey of Jacob to Laban’s family. That day, Mutendi and his friends prayed fervently for God to guide them to South Africa. On his journey to South Africa, Mutendi was accompanied by Charles Mabvure, Aaron Chinembiri, Paul Taka, and Muyaramwi. They went on foot and covered around 700 kilometres from Bikita to Polokwane in South Africa.
In South Africa, Mutendi and his colleagues found jobs at Bombara Farm in the Transvaal region. One day after work, Mutendi and his colleagues debated which church was ideal for them to join. The debate continued but they couldn’t reach an agreement. That night, Mutendi dreamed about two angels whom he had seen in a dream while he was a police officer at Hartley in 1913. One of the angels urged him to wake up and pray. While he was praying, the angel spoke to him, saying “The ideal church for you is the Zion Apostolic Faith Mission.” He woke up and reported his dream to his colleagues and they were very happy. The next day they decided to join the Zion Apostolic Faith Mission where he also met Engenas Legkanyane. It was at this point in time that Mutendi was joined by Andreas Shoko.
Mutendi and his colleagues spent most of their time fasting, praying and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Mutendi told his friends that when he planned to visit South Africa, he never thought that one day he would become a founder and the bishop of a big African church. He thought he would just go there to work and buy clothes and cattle. Yet God was preparing him to be a minister of the Word to his own people. In South Africa, some of his fellow countrymen were laughing at him and he would laugh at them in turn. They were telling him, “You have forgotten your main aim of coming here. We are here to make money and we are going to pray in our churches at home.”
In 1922, still in South Africa, Mutendi was baptized in the church shown to him by the angel, the Zion Apostolic Faith Mission. That was the church brought from America to Basutholand by Edward, and then to Transvaal by Engenas Legkanyane. Mutendi chose Andreas Shoko to be his assistant because Andreas was very wise, gifted in music, and diligent in studying the Bible.
While Mutendi was in South Africa, a certain man called Thomas dreamed he was sent by God to tell him to preach the word of God from Luke 3:1 upon his arrival in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Following Thomas’s dream, Mutendi decided to come back to Zimbabwe with the Bible only, while others brought blankets, clothes and money to buy cattle at home. Again people laughed at him while he laughed back at them. He came to Zimbabwe to do what he was called for. At first, he was afraid as he did not know where to start because no black man had been preaching the gospel in Zimbabwe at that time.
In Zimbabwe, Samuel Mutendi began to preach the gospel to his former colleagues at Gumunyu School and some people repented and were saved. His preaching was quite different from that of the Dutch Reformed missionaries since he was able to contextualize the biblical message to an African worldview. As a result, he managed to establish various congregations in Masvingo province and he baptized people by immersion.
From Gumunyu, Mutendi and his friends moved on to Nyika village in Bikita District. While he was there, a certain man reported to them that a girl called Miriam Rukuni had died. Miriam was a member of their church. The man who came to invite Mutendi and his team wanted him to come and bury her. A coffin had already been bought. Upon their arrival, Mutendi’s companion called Petros Mamvura stood up and prophesied, “Do not bury her but pray for her because she will rise up. This will demonstrate the power of God whom Mutendi and his followers are worshipping.” Immediately after these prophetic words, Samuel Mutendi announced to the girl’s parents that her daughter was not dead and therefore should not be buried.
The large crowds of mourners were angered by Mutendi’s words because they thought that he was arrogant. They wondered, “How can she be raised? She is already dead.” These people took their spears, knobkerries, bows, and arrows and said to Mutendi, “If you fail to raise the girl we are going to kill you since you are wasting our time.” Despite these threats, Mutendi went into the house where the corpse was laid and prayed. Meanwhile, crowds of disgruntled people waited for him outside. All the members of the church joined Mutendi in prayer. All they wanted was for God to show them signs and wonders. Fortunately, God worked a great miracle and the girl rose from the dead. Mutendi handed over the girl to her parents. Consequently, many people joined Mutendi’s church and praised the Lord Almighty.
However, the majority of people in and outside the DRC wondered about the source of Mutendi’s power. As a result, the Dutch Reformed Church ministers and laypeople convened a meeting at Mushana Mission in order to investigate Samuel Mutendi’s manner of preaching, where he had gotten the authority to preach, and how he was able to heal the sick. They agreed to send a spy to find out the source of Mutendi’s authority and power. They sent Rev. Hurandini to try to instill fear in him. Rev. Hurandini attempted to go with a car but the car broke down along the way. He made a second attempt with a bicycle but the bicycle also broke down. Therefore, Rev. Hurandini could not meet Samuel Mutendi as planned.
Instead, Rev. Muzvare and Johannes Muchengeti decided to go and talk to Samuel Mutendi in a kind manner. They found Mutendi doing work at his home. They asked him whether the reports they had received about him of having a church, speaking in tongues, and baptizing people in the river were true. Samuel Mutendi looked at them with a quizzical eye. They continued to ask him where he had received authority and power to do those things and whether he had a license and a certificate to preach the Gospel. Mutendi responded, “How come a Reverend has deserted his ministry and become a police officer?” The Reverend said to Samuel Mutendi, “Are you possessed with an evil spirit? Why do you question me like that?” Mutendi again answered them, “How can I be afraid today? All along people were talking about me saying I am possessed by evil spirits. Do you forget that even people like Jesus, the early disciples and church fathers were accused of being possessed by evil spirits? I do not have to trouble my heart.” Rev. Muzvare said to Samuel Mutendi, “Why do you want to equate yourself with the believers of old?” They nodded their heads and returned to their mission.
From that day on, Mutendi and his followers were persecuted everyday by the Dutch Reformed Church, Roman Catholic Church members, and African traditional leaders. They made false accusations because they were jealous that his church was growing so fast. One day the DRC minister in Bikita District reported Mutendi to the police, saying that he was organizing bands of terrorists against the government. As a result, Mutendi and his colleagues were arrested.
Mutendi and his colleagues were summoned to the Magistrate’s Court in Fort Victoria (now Masvingo). Mutendi took some of his elders who were prophets and went to Masvingo. When they entered the courtroom for the trial, those who had accompanied him suddenly realized that the case was very serious and they were afraid. When they were asked to confirm if they normally associated with Mutendi, they all denied knowing him.
A white man called Charles who was not a Christian confessed that he knew Mutendi. He testified, “Do not blame this man because it is his occupation because I know him.” This explanation saved him. There was much fear among both whites and blacks who witnessed what happened that day. Mutendi and his colleagues were released and returned home. On their way, they discussed the way forward. They agreed that they needed to register their church in Salisbury (now Harare) since this was the only place where certificates for preaching were given. However, at Salisbury they were told not to establish a church.
In February 1940, they finally received permission to register their church. Consequently, the word of God began to spread without the worshippers having to hide or fear. When people realized that Mutendi was now operating with a license, they flocked to the church in order to have their evil spirits chased away. Even the majority of chiefs who were against Mutendi’s movement were converted in the ZCC and became very close to Mutendi. They now recognized Mutendi as the great king of their land. Mutendi finally built his church headquarters, Zion City Morijah, in Bikita District, in Masvingo province.
In April 1951, Chief Gangazha gave Mutendi a plot of land on which he built a church that opened its doors to worshippers at Easter of 1951. The district commissioner Mr. Drum was invited. Many people gathered to witness the opening of the church by Chief Gopo of the Rozvi tribe who led the congregation around the church singing the gospel song 118 from the DRC hymn book. There was a lot of jubilation as people sang and played musical instruments to praise the Lord. Part of the congregation milled around the church but there was not enough room for everyone inside the church due to the large numbers in attendance. Chief Gopo delivered an emotional sermon congratulating Mutendi for the courage he had demonstrated up to that day. He thanked Mutendi’s followers for the unity of purpose and the resilience they had shown in the past years.
Despite these achievements, the antagonistic relationship between Samuel Mutendi and the Dutch Reformed Church, the Catholic Church, and the colonial administrators continued as his followers increased in Masvingo and Manicaland provinces. Mutendi therefore decided to extend his territory to Midlands province. In the 1960s, he established another great center of worship in Gokwe in the area of Chief Sahai. He managed to establish a mission station at Defe Dopota. But by then, Mutendi was old and his days were numbered.
According to Daneel (1989), during Mutendi’s countrywide round of paschal celebrations in April 1976, the frail old bishop must have had foreknowledge of his coming death. He told his followers that he would not be seeing them again and that he was being called to heaven to receive the crown that was due to him.
Mutendi, the most remarkable independent church leader in Zimbabwe, who led the ZCC in Zimbabwe for some fifty years died on July 20, 1976 at a newly established Jerusalem at Defe in Gokwe South District. Since 1977, every July 20, thousands of Zionist pilgrims from across the world converge at Defe Dopota shrine to celebrate the life of Samuel Mutendi.
Nehemiah Mutendi, current bishop of the ZCC, son of Samuel Mutendi. Interview at Mbungo, Masvingo, April 2011.
Sydney Mutendi, son of Samuel Mutendi who is currently Headman Mutendi under Chief Sahi in Gokwe South District. Interview at Gokwe, July 2011.
Rev. Mutema Obert. Interview in Copper Queen Resettlement Area in Gokwe North District, Gokwe August 2011.
Tsitsi Rukuni, cousin sister to Samuel Mutendi. Interview at Bikita, Masvingo, August 2011.
Chimininge, V. 2005. “A Phenomenological Quest of Understanding the Sacrality of the Defe Dopota Shrine in the Zion Christian Church of Samuel Mutendi.” Unpublished M.A. Thesis. Harare: University of Zimbabwe.
Chimininge, V. 2012. “An Analysis of Myths and Rituals Associated with the Origins and Development of Zion Christian Church of Samuel Mutendi in Zimbabwe.” Unpublished PhD Thesis. Pretoria: UNISA.
“Rungano rwe Zion Christian Church of Samuel Mutendi.” Unpublished booklet. N.d.
Chimininge, V. 2012. “The Ritual of Avenging Spirit: A Case Study of the Zion Christian Church of Samuel Mutendi in Zimbabwe.” Theologia Viatorum: Journal of Theology and Religion in Africa. Volume 36.1 (2012): 94-124.
Chiminininge, V. 2014. “History of Zion Christian Church.” A book chapter in Multiplying in the Spirit: Bible in African Studies. Series 15: Exploring Religion in Africa 1. Edited by Joachim Kugler, Lovemore Togarasei, and Regis Masiiwa Gunda in cooperation with Ezra Chitando and Nisbert Taringa.
Daneel, M. L. 1987. Quest for Belonging: An Introduction to the Study of African Independent Churches. Gweru: Mambo Press.
Daneel, M. L. 1977. “The Growth and Significance of Shona Independent Churches.” In Christianity South of Zambezi, Vol ii. Ed. by Bourdillon, M.F.C. Gweru: Mambo Press.
Daneel, M. L. 1970. The God of the Matopos Hills: An Essay on the Mwari Cult in Rhodesia. Mouton: The Hague Press.
Daneel, M. L. 1970. Zionism and Faith Healing in Rhodesia. Mouton: The Hague Press.
Daneel, M. L. 1971. Old and New in Southern Shona Independent Churches Vol.i: Church Growth-Causative Factors and Recruitment Techniques. Mouton: The Hague Press.
Daneel, M. L. 1974. Old and New in Southern Shona Independent Churches Vol. ii: Church Growth-Causative Factors and Recruitment Techniques. Mouton, Gweru: The Afrika-Stuiecentrum, Mambo Press.
Daneel, M. L. 1988. Old and New in the Shona Independent Churches Vol. viii: Leadership and Fission Dynamics. Gweru: Mambo Press.
Daneel, M. L. 1989. Fambidzano: Ecumenical Movement of Zimbabwean Independent Churches. Gweru: Mambo Press.
This article, received in 2016, was written by Dr. Vengesai Chimininge, a senior lecturer in Religious Studies and Philosophy at Zimbabwe Open University, Harare, Zimbabwe.