Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

The Royal Ancestor Spirit Medium of Makopa and the 2008 Presidential Run-Off Elections in Chipinge, South-East Zimbabwe

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

The Royal Ancestor Spirit Medium of Makopa and the 2008 Presidential Run-Off Elections in Chipinge, South-East Zimbabwe

Article excerpt

.... spirits as real, social actors provide[d] mimetic insight into contemporary political changes...Democracy did not enable the spirits; the spirits enabled democracy! (Bubandt 2009, p.308-309)

Many political theorists agree on the notion that the process of democratisation across the world will remain an unfinished project (see Dunn 1993). In a broad sense and for the purposes of this paper, democratisation is defined as the progressive and effective inclusion of various groups (e.g. ethnic and religious minorities, gays, lesbians, people of colour, women etc) in political life (Dryzek 1996, p. 475). The ambivalent relationship between religion and politics is examined in this account with a view to better understand how traditional religious figures can support democratisation efforts. I argue here that, spirit mediums can add both spiritual and sacred dimensions to the democratisation process and one of the goals of this piece is to contribute to that understanding. For Philpott

Support for democratization can take the form of several kinds of civic, nonviolent modes of resistance, including explicit statements and actions of protest against authoritarian regimes, conduct of religious ceremonies with an oppositional intent, cooperation with co-religionists across borders in defying the regime, and similar collaboration with parties, unions, and other opposition groups within domestic civil society. (2007, p. 10)

This is a case study of Makopa, a spirit medium who opposed the setting up of army style torture bases by war veterans in Mutema chieftainship. It is a conversation about subaltern resistance to Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) hegemony at a micro level. It examines local politics and power relations through an anthropological perspective that interrogates the interplay of domination, resistance and symbolic power. This study elucidates the salience of spirit mediums and spirit possession in precipitating political change. For the purpose of this paper, spirit possession entails 'an embodied critique of colonial, national or global hegemonies whose negative impact is mostly felt by women' (Boddy 1994, p. 419). The opening quote of this essay reveals how spirit possession is closely linked to contemporary political discourses on democratisation. Similarly, Lewis (2003, p. xix) argues that spiritual ecstasy and possession in their various manifestations have both social and political significance.

This article recognizes the centrality of mystic traditional religion in Zimbabwe's democratisation discourses. It also speaks to the salient role of spirit mediums in shaping the course of political change during both the colonial and the post-independence eras. This paper also interrogates why the relationship between war veterans and traditional religious leadership within the Mutema chieftainship changed from accommodation to confrontation. The change can be attributed to the complex socio-political dynamics that came into existence as ZANU PF sought to decimate the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) using local traditional leadership as lackeys. It is worth noting that this study is in response to the scant attention that has been given to the continued political relevance of the medium of Makopa in scholarly literature especially after Vijfhuizen's pioneering work published in the late 1990s (see 1997, 1998). Therefore this study seeks to complement the burgeoning literature on spirit possession in general and Vijfhuizen's pioneering scholarly literature on Makopa's role in mediating and resolving political conflicts in Chipinge district, southeast Zimbabwe in particular. This paper draws on fieldwork conducted in Ngaone in Chipinge, Zimbabwe between December 2009 and June 2010. In terms of methodology for this study, the author conducted one face to face indepth interview with the medium of Makopa and her husband, four similar interviews with MDC activists and close to a dozen and half informal interviews with villagers in Mutema chieftaincy. …

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