Makandiwa’s hazy source of riches

A senior pastor and prophet with the United Family International Church (UFIC), Shingirai Chirume, popularly known as Emmanuel Makandiwa, was in the news again this past week.

When faith rises, reason falls. True or false?

A senior pastor and prophet with the United Family International Church (UFIC), Shingirai Chirume, popularly known as Emmanuel Makandiwa, was in the news again this past week.


People started serving around a massive mansion in Glen Lorne that they say is his. No-one has denied that this is his house, so let’s assume it’s, indeed, his.

Now, this is a house built in heaven. You don’t see many places like that in Zimbabwe or anywhere in Africa that often. The design, the location, the swag. You wouldn’t be blamed for estimating its costs at US$50 million or something like that. You don’t guess Aliko Dangote has even attempted building half of that house!

On the other side of town is quite a different story to tell that almost everyone seems to have forgotten. The multi-million dollar UFIC church in Chitungwiza is in limbo. This is the church being built on disputed land that Makandiwa and his denomination, according to available records, reportedly bought from the Chitungwiza city council through the backdoor to, ostensibly, develop a hotel and what, what.

This could be a naughty line from the cynics, because, despite the hullabaloo, the church has stood and, pre-Covid, thousands were going there every week. But, despite the fanfare that was there in the early years, not much progress is taking place to complete the construction of the church. Is the church getting broke as Makandiwa gets richer?

The main question, though, that has been sitting on the tongues of the cynics is: Where did Makandiwa get the money to build such an incredible structure? Don’t worry about his followers. They have, predictably, been defending him.

Pretty like what Karl Marx, in passing, was saying way back in 1843 when he talked about organised religion being the opium of the people. Religion being “a sigh of the oppressed creature”. A drugging tool that the ruling class was using to oppress the poor working class.

Well, maybe Marx must have just saved his breath — ink, rather — on this one. Despite his casual warning then, more than three billion people belong to one religion or another today. They are just too happy to be drugged. When faith stands up, reason goes to sleep, you may say.

Those that Makandiwa has drugged with his magnificent spiritual charisma insist to leave the “man of God” alone. They say there is no story in this because Makandiwa is a well-heeled businessman who is using his own money to do properties like the Glen Lorne mansion.

The cynics say he is an armed robber. He is using his spiritual charm to rob the poor of their hard-earned money and get filthy rich. He is manipulating faith —the nemesis of reason or rationality — to squeeze his followers while they beam with a smile like that rape victim, so they say.

All this stuff is for you to judge. Let’s start with the “businessman” argument. Makandiwa is a businessman, true or false? True. If he is a businessman, he can buy anything he wants using his money. True or false? True. As a businessman, Makandiwa has millions of dollars in his purse. True or false? None of the above. The answer is maybe. If he has built a multi-million dollar mansion as it is being said, he is using his own millions. True or false. Maybe. So, chances are that he is using his “own” money, hey? Yes.

If the final answer is “yes”, which is this thing about Makandiwa robbing the poor to build the house now? Why must people start crying foul about the anointed “man of God” using his blessings to build a manly heaven on earth?

But hey, the cynics would say, things aren’t working that way. It’s misleading to talk about Makandiwa’s “own money” and “own business”. Their argument is that whatever he is doing or has now, he has robbed a naïve congregation anxious for material deliverance of their combined millions to make what you now call his own money.

And there is some rhyme in this. Makandiwa, while still a pastor at AFM, started what was then just UFI — United Family International — in 2008 to bring together people from different denominations. The inter-denominational outfit was fairly suppressed until 2009 when Zimbabwe dollarised and moved away from the hyperinflationary environment that had madly grown from the early years of the new millennium, reaching a peak in 2008.

Makandiwa was expelled from or, rather, opted out of AFM, which insisted that he must stop what he had started or just ship out. You know AFM now. It’s such a quarrelsome church, so Makandiwa skipped wagon.

He had come a long way with AFM, though, a church into which he was born. At one time, he was posted to southern Zimbabwe as an assistant pastor, graduating to a full pastor. When he was promoted, he ministered in Shangani where he headed one of the AFM assemblies. Things were so dry during his time in the southern parts of the country that, at one time, his wife, Ruth, was using a hot pot to iron the family clothes. The small family was struggling to put bread on the table. Typically, AFM pastors are funded from congregants’ contributions, and Shangani is a poor place where people were not giving anything meaningful.

But, sometimes, people don’t stay poor, and Makandiwa, when he returned to Harare, started getting rich, particularly from 2009. Let’s then get back to the “businessman” argument. At what time did Makandiwa get into business?

There is no clear answer on this one, but what we know is that, on the admission of his aide, Prime Kufa, he bought a gold mine from Ming-Chang, a Chinese entity, for US$1.3 million in 2014. It was said he got a loan from a bank. The bank was not named. Nor do we know what sort of collateral Makandiwa put out, if it’s true that a bank gave him a mortgage.

This is the first time we hear about Makandiwa getting into business, publicly. Since we can’t rely on what we don’t know or haven’t been told, let’s assume that Makandiwa got into business in 2014. This was five years after UFIC started doing serious business, with the hyperinflationary era behind us.

The UFIC became an instant hit with thousands of people because of Makandiwa’s indisputable preaching prowess. You see, this guy has the gift to talk. He can even outsmart a professor of religious studies when it comes to interpreting the scriptures, even though it’s not clear if Bible Knowledge was among the few subjects he passed at O’Level. And he sprinkled that with bits of spiritual healing.

This earned him a captured following, mostly poor people who wouldn’t mind going hungry at home so that they could pay tithes and seed money at church in order to get promised deliverance. At one time, Makandiwa was reported to be enjoying a 400 000 followership, at the least. Among these, of course, were people from the middle and upper class too.

Try some quick math here. If all the “ordinary” congregants were releasing a minimum of US$4 as offerings, tithes or seed money every week — and that is a modest estimation — how much was the church getting per month from these poor people. Some US$800 000 multiplied by four. A cool US$3,2 million a month. Add to that the well-heeled followers, some of who would fork out as much as US$100 000!

Safely, then, UFIC was getting more than US$5 million a month. That means at least US$60 million a year. Multiply that by the five years between 2009 and 2014 when Makandiwa reportedly got into mining and such such. Well, not all the money that got into the church went to Makandiwa per se, but he had his good share from there.

Since there are no records of him having amassed his money from personal sources, and since the bank loan story could just be that, a yarn, it’s highly likely that he got the millions to start his own business or businesses from the church congregants. And if that is correct, it becomes clear that he manipulated a naïve followership to start multi-million commercial ventures and, coming with that, such mega-dollar properties like the alleged Glen Lorne mansion.

And this gets more traction from the fact that Makandiwa has started a pyramid scheme he calls the “seed of honour” whereby he wants “at least a thousand people to sow their seed of a thousand dollars”, and he unashamedly says this is not coming from God, but him!

Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on [email protected]