African Independent Churches in Mozambique: Healing the Afflictions of Inequality

Abstract

The recent explosive proliferation of African Independent Churches (AICs) in central Mozambique coincided with rapid growth of economic disparity in the 1990s produced by privatization, cuts in government services, and arrival of foreign aid promoted by Mozambique’s World Bank/International Monetary Fund Structural Adjustment Program. Drawing on ethnographic research in the city of Chimoio, this article argues that growing inequality has led to declining social cohesion, heightened individual competition, fear of interpersonal violence, and intensified conflict between spouses in poor families. This perilous social environment finds expression in heightened fears of witchcraft, sorcery, and avenging spirits, which are often blamed in Shona ideology for reproductive health problems. Many women with sick children or suffering from infertility turn to AICs for treatment because traditional healers are increasingly viewed as dangerous and too expensive. The AICs invoke the “Holy Spirit” to exorcise malevolent agents and then provide a community of mutual aid and ongoing protection against spirit threats.