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News > Culture

A Country of Religious and Linguistic Diversity: Zimbabwe

  • A Zimbabwean woman stands in front of a statue depicting national heroes.

    A Zimbabwean woman stands in front of a statue depicting national heroes. | Photo: AFP

Published 15 October 2017

While Zimbabwe has no official religion, it comes in second place, only behind India, as the country with the most official languages.

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center reveals that Zimbabwe, along with 106 other countries, have no official or preferred religion. However, provisions in Section 60 (1) (a) and (b) of its Constitution provides all Zimbabweans with the freedom to express their conscience, thought, opinion, religion and belief.

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The U.S.-based think-tank noted that it “analyzed each country's constitution or basic laws along with its official policies and actions towards religious groups to classify its church-state relationship into four categories."

While traditional religions, or a variant of the sort, are widely practiced among the Shona, Ndebele and San, Nisbert Taringa, a professor in the Department of Religious Studies, Classics and Philosphy at the University of Zimbabwe, stated "The Constitution of Zimbabwe states that religion is practised freely. There was once a heated debate when there were suggestions to declare Zimbabwe a Christian nation. That call failed.”

He stressed that "If you say let's declare Zimbabwe a Christian nation, then there will be a fight in deciding if it will be Catholic, Adventist or Lutheran."

However, Taringa conceded, possibly by virtue of the legacy of colonialism and missionary influence, that Christianity is a preferred religion at gatherings due to the greater percentage of Christians who make up the population.” He added that “Christian clergy, and sometimes tradionalists,” are most prevalent in the country.

Sheikh Henry Balakazi also weighed in on Zimbabwe's religious diversity saying that "We Muslims, though we are a minority, freely practise our faith in our country. We build our mosques and Islamic schools as and when we want just like any other religion. Where religious matters are concerned we enjoy our freedom of assembly and association."

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Linguistic diversity is another hallmark of Zimbabwe. In fact, with 16 official languages - Xhosa, Venda, Tswana, Tonga, Sotho, Sign Language, Shona, Shangani, Ndbele, Ndau, Nambya, Koisan, Kalanga, English, Chibarwe and Chewa - it comes in second place, only behind India, as the country with the most official languages.

Shona is one of the languages spoken by the country's president Robert Mugabe. After having been imprisoned for a decade by colonial forces, as well as being prohibited from attending the funeral of his three-year-old son, Michael Nhamodzenyika Mugabe, he helped lead the Chimurenga bush war from Mozambique to oust former president Ian Smith and his white-minority government.

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