The appeal of T.B. Joshua

2014-09-18 00:00

[I WATCHED a] (British) Channel 4 TV documentary film about Nigeria’s millionaire preachers — the fake healings, buckets full of money collected by church leaders (“tithes”), police escorts, mall openings as well as all that flash. This all against a background of grinding poverty.

Most Nigerian blogs, not surprisingly (many of them are believers of some sort), have focused on theological debates thrown up by the documentary. One of the preachers, Dr Fireman, when quizzed about his ostentatious show of wealth, responds: “Jesus was rich and had an accountant who followed him around.” No one’s surprised that with low confidence in political parties and the state, people gravitate toward fast-money preachers promising eternal salvation, as well as financial and physical health.

However, it appears the film-makers could only get to the B-List preachers since we didn’t see any of the really rich preachers. Those preachers, compiled in a list by a Forbes blogger earlier this year, include David Oyedepo, estimated net worth of $150 million (R1,6 billion), Chris Oyakhilome ($30-50 million) and T.B. Joshua ($10-15 million).

Of all these men, it is perhaps Joshua who is the most interesting. He claims to heal HIV/Aids, cancer and paralysis at his Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos. More significantly, he has also found a willing audience among African elites, especially its political class and leading sporting personalities.

But first to his claims as a healer.

Joshua serves as an adviser to many of Nigeria’s leading sports people. They thank him profusely for their good health. But it is not just his country’s sports people who have put their trust in Joshua’s healing powers. In one celebrated case, rugby player Jaco van der Westhuyzen travelled to Lagos with a knee injury and claimed to have been healed by Joshua. Two fellow Springbok team members, who had cancer, also travelled to Lagos to see Joshua and promptly stopped their treatments. Two of Van der Westhuyzen’s team-mates, Ruben Kruger and Wium Basson, also went to see Joshua. He claimed to heal them too, but they died of their cancers.

Consistent with evangelical Christianity’s teachings, Kruger and Basson’s failure to get well was rationalised as their lack of faith. (In Basson’s case, Joshua even claimed to communicate with him beyond the grave.)

South African television has reported stories of white South Africans travelling in large groups to Joshua’s church for healing.

As for the politically connected who travel to see and hear Joshua in Nigeria, they include Ghanaian president John Atta Mills, of whom it is claimed that “… Joshua had prophesied his victory in the Ghanaian polls, specifying there would be three elections and the results would be released in January”. Atta Mills has described Joshua as a mentor.

Separately, a Zimbabwean newspaper reported that [then] prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai visited Joshua’s church in September. So have other leaders of Tsvangirai’s MDC movement as well as Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF. Some were hoping it would give them an edge in party political contests.

The same newspaper mentioned a few other high-profile guests, including former presidents Frederick Chiluba (Zambia), Pascal Lissouba (Congo-Brazzaville), André Kolimba (Central African Republic), Omar Bongo (Gabon) and Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini (who came to testify about his “daughter’s healing from epilepsy”).

The president of Zimbabwe’s football association, Cuthbert Dube, also claimed to be healed by Joshua.

Not all governing elites are as welcoming of Joshua and his healings (and predictions — he claims to foresee plane crashes, natural disasters, although critics point out that the videos where he apparently makes such predictions are cleverly edited). In fact, Cameroon has banned Joshua.

But the most curious recent guest at Joshua’s church was Winnie Mandela, who in a programme with Joshua’s Emmanuel TV, referred to herself as “the grandmother of Africa”, blamed everything that’s wrong on the continent on modernity and suggested Africa needs “democracy of a special type”.

BTW, we keep wondering why do South Africans travel to Nigeria, when they have their own miracle-making farmer at home.

• The blog Africa is a Country is not about famine, Bono, or Barack Obama. It was founded by South African Sean Jacobs.


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