Mhaka Tinatswe

Over the last couple of years Prophet Walter Magaya, the leader Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries, one of the biggest congregations in Zimbabwe, has been found at the center of a plethora of sexual crime allegations including assault, rape, and sexual harassment. It became clear in August 2016, after he was arrested for the rape of Petronella Donhodzo Mandaza that, it only could have been efforts by captured mainstream media and corrupt law enforcement officers, to suppress the stories of any women that challenged the seemingly untouchable conduct of one of Zimbabwe’s most popular prophets. It surfaced that outside of the survivors that had publicly come forward, several women had previously made reports, only to later retract their statements under suspicious circumstances. The stories of the women that had pursued justice were tucked away and dealt with outside of the public eye and Walter Magaya’s integrity remained intact. It was only in 2019 that the bodies that had been ignored became too many to conceal. Media outlets nationwide began to interrogate why there had been so little coverage of the sexual crimes allegedly committed, and names of more women surfaced. On the 23rd of August 2019, Zimbabwe Gender Commission announced that it was launching an investigation into Walter Magaya in terms of section 5 of the Gender Commission Act 10:31 which states:

“Before launching an investigation the Commission shall publish a notice in the Gazette and in any one or more national newspapers informing the public that, no earlier than fourteen days or later than thirty days after the publication of the notice in the Gazette, it intends to investigate any systemic barrier prejudicial to gender equality, gender equity or gender mainstreaming in a specific named sphere of activity or named sector of the society or economy.”

When an investigation is launched by the Commission, members of the public are invited to file complaints and provide any evidence they have about the subject of the investigation. It was this announcement that led to proceedings Walter Magaya launched. Magaya instituted two different claims in the High court, the first of which was defamation of character as a result of the announcement made by the Commission and most importantly the second claim that said the Gender Commission did not have the jurisdiction, and the investigation as unlawful because one man Walter Magaya did not constitute “a systemic barrier to gender inequality.”

 It is common knowledge among many professions, that technical arguments are usually an indication that substantive arguments will not suffice. It is curious that in one set of proceedings the argument would be that he stands to lose from being defamed because of his stature when in another set of proceedings the argument is that his actions are not impactful enough to cause a systemic barrier. The High Court ruled that the Gender Commission acted within its jurisdiction, a matter that is now currently under review. On the 10th of March 2020, Walter Magaya (represented by Advocate T. Mpofu) appeared in the Supreme Court of Appeal to challenge the decision of the High Court. It is shocking, to say the least, that as a comment to one of Walter Magaya’s submissions Honourable Justice Patel, agreed with the Appellant and stated: “one man no matter how evil cannot be said to be a systemic barrier to gender inequality”. It is especially shocking that having the full historical context of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle and the power dynamics associated with oppression, the only Caucasian male that sits on the bench would make such a bold statement. The very idea of systemic barriers is based on, individual prejudices that are intricately woven into the way that institutions function, feeding into and impacting the political will and value judgments of the people.

Walter Magaya heads a congregation of over 200000 people and has a network of powerful religious men all over the world. It almost goes without saying that he informs the opinions of many Christians across the country. A huge testament to this has been the social media backlash that is unleashed on any emerging allegation. Many people have been pushed to believe that rape is about sex and if that is the case why a man of stature with options would have no reason to rape. But that is untrue because rape is only about power. Society has been led to question the narrative of women and award men the benefit of the doubt that comes with power and domination. The Supreme Court of Appeal reserved the judgment, and should it be upheld, the Commission will have a significant chance at confronting the violence that is quietly perpetrated against women in religious spaces.