Of Spirituality and Poverty: A Zimbabwean Cultural Perspective

By Mtapuri, Oliver; Mazengwa, Pudurai Justin | Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology, May 2013 | Go to article overview

Of Spirituality and Poverty: A Zimbabwean Cultural Perspective


Mtapuri, Oliver, Mazengwa, Pudurai Justin, Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology


Abstract

This article, based on a desk study, connects African spirituality to the phenomenon of poverty and argues that mundane poverty alleviation strategies that ignore the cultural perspective of a people are doomed to fail, especially in the African context. Within this context, a domain such as transcendence is as 'real' to the people as the material world. This article delves into the alchemy of the traditions of African people from a Zimbabwean perspective in an attempt to understand some of the causes of poverty. The authors aver that development practitioners stand to gain if they take into account such (African) worldviews. The article shows that there is a disconnect between western culture and indigenous cultural beliefs and suggests that it is necessary to use phenomenological methods to unpack this disconnect because the spiritual world can support or limit the extent to which poverty alleviation programmes are effective. This means that the notion of development rooted in western knowledge frames may require opening discourses that imagine different social ontologies to find solutions in an (African) context. Thus, the challenge for phenomenologists is to research culturally-appropriate approaches to development using phenomenology.

Introduction

Although some domains (such as friendship and transcendence) are not usually considered relevant to poverty reduction and may not be amenable to measurement, in some cases it may be crucial to acknowledge these domains because resistance to poverty reduction initiatives may stem from perceptions of a trade-off between poverty reduction and such social and cultural values (Alkire, 2007, p. 93)

This article attempts to unveil a perspective of poverty that hitherto has not been explored in current discourses on poverty. This dimension may confound the debate. If that turns out to be the outcome, it was unintended. This article challenges current thinking and extends a perspective that many Africans in Zimbabwe, as in many other African countries, may still hold dearly in the alchemy of their traditions and understanding of the causes of poverty. By shedding light on these African traditional religious beliefs using phenomenological methods, the researchers are of the view that this understanding could be a precursor to the adoption of appropriate policies and programmes useful for poverty alleviation. This paper debunks the notion that conventional interventions, which are usually project based for income generation, training and so forth, advocated by such agencies as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) would be unhelpful in circumstances of poverty supposedly caused by other supernatural phenomena such as evil spirits, avenging spirits, and ancestral spirits or the Creator. The article is based essentially on a desk study and reviewed literature on phenomenology and African belief systems in Zimbabwe. By virtue of its anthropological slant, the article locates itself in phenomenology, and within the article phenomenology is used "to its fullest as a means of better understanding aspects of what it means to be human" (Stones, 2009, p. 1).

Theoretical framework

This article, like phenomenology, is interested in understanding social life. Aspers (2009, p. 1) rightly argued that the "social world is socially constructed". This work is steeped in the ideas and traditions that make up the philosophy of phenomenology as postulated by Husserl, Heidegger, Schutz, Merleau- Ponty, Berger, Derrida, Habermas and others. Aspers (2009) noted that descriptions of how people feel, think and perceive things are central to the phenomenological approach. In addition, this author noted that the understanding that science reaches "is based on the practice and knowledge of the everyday life world ... and meaning is understood in a context, and understanding can only emerge in a process" (p. 2). Schutz (cited in Aspers, 2009, p. …

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