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Vapostori' tackle HIV and Aids
Bertha Shoko,The Standard (Zimbabwe)
May 05, 2005

http://www.thestandard.co.zw/read.php?st_id=2284

FOR sometime now Apostolic Faith Missions in Zimbabwe have been associated with wayward beliefs and practices that fuel the spread of HIV and Aids.

Practices such as early marriages for young girls, polygamy, wife inheritance and kuzvarira (marrying off young girls to old men, even when they are still babies) have been attacked for their contribution to the spread of HIV and AIDS.

The "Vapositori" as they are commonly known, have always been enmeshed in controversy because of their church doctrines, which are viewed by AIDS activists as dangerous in light of the current scourge.

Some Apostolic churches, for example, do not allow their members to go to clinics and hospitals or to use contraceptives. They also refuse their daughters permission to go to school.

But, is all this ever going to change? Are the "Vapositori" slowly realising that some of their doctrines are working against them and that they need to turn over a new leaf?

Last week I attended a workshop organised by Futures Group's Zimbabwe Aids Policy and Advocacy Project (ZAPA) for the Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe (UDACIZA) in Harare and I came out convinced the gathering is going to be the turning point for the Apostolic Faith sect.

UDACIZA is made of 70 Apostolic Faith sects that include Johanne Masowe, Johanne Marange, Zvishamiso and Zviratidzo. The workshop brought together more than 30 Apostolic Faith leaders, bishops and HIV and Aids co-ordinators with the main objective of formulating an HIV and Aids policy for members.

President of UDACIZA, Bishop Revai Xavier Chitanda of Johanne Masowe told StandardHealth that apostolic faith missions in Zimbabwe are heading for a "new era".

Chitanda said he was optimistic that a formulation of the HIV and Aids policy for his members would result in behaviour change among members but admitted "it would be no easy road".

"We are now preaching to our members one-man one-wife, discouraging early marriage for girls and also discouraging wife inheritance. We all know how these practices are drawing us back in the fight against HIV and AIDS," Chitanda said.

"In the AIDS policy we are working on, we hope to first come up with a framework which, as leaders of our churches, we will take to the people to see their response. Maybe there will be things they want to change or add, who knows? It is only after this exercise that we will develop the final policy."

Also speaking at the workshop, ZAPA senior HIV and AIDS policy specialist Godfrey Tinarwo said engaging the Apostolic Faith among other denominations is part of ZAPA's project to increase the participation of Faith Based Organisations (FBOs) in HIV and Aids issues. Tinarwo said the FBOs have the potential to "shift the tide" of the HIV and AIDS scourge if given the chance and means.

"The objective of this ZAPA project is to enhance the capacity of FBOs by helping them form HIV and Aids policies for their members," said Tinarwo.

"Many Zimbabweans subscribe to one or other FBO but networks have not been developed to come up with comprehensive policies for members to assist them in the Aids fight.

"FBOs can contribute immensely towards behaviour-change. People respect their leaders and are likely to be touched by their teachings in church. So these leaders need to be empowered to spread the word about HIV and AIDS."

With more than three million followers countrywide, the Apostolic Faith sect makes up a large number of our population and there is therefore need to engage them and make them realise how some of their doctrines have fuelled the AIDS scourge.

ZAPA is also working with denominations such as the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers' Association (ZINATHA), Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, Zion Church and Heads of Christian Denominations, which include main stream churches such as the Roman Catholic, United Methodist and Anglican.

It is important that non-governmental organisations involved in AIDS work realise the potential that FBOs have to effect behaviour change. Churches also have a moral obligation to society to break the silence about sexuality issues and more importantly, about the AIDS scourge and initiatives such as these by Futures International and ZAPA are commendable.

Already some Apostolic sects such as Johanne Masowe have abolished polygamy.

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