Religious tourism returns to Defe Dopota
Patrick Chitumba –Head of Midlands Office
LOCATED southwest of the center of Gokwe and bordering the Chirisa Game Park, Defe Dopota has become synonymous with the month of August with the arrival of pilgrims commemorating the death of ZCC founder Reverend Samuel Mutendi in 1976.
Every year in August the usually laid back neighborhood rises like a phoenix and last Sunday people came from near and far.
Pilgrims from Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, Eswatini and Angola were represented.
Even President Mnangagwa, who also found himself in Defe Dopota after being invited as a guest of honor, was impressed by the sea of blue, white, green, red and khaki colors of the elegantly dressed ZCC pilgrims gathered to the shrine for their annual pilgrimage.
As if to make up for the past two years when ZCC pilgrims failed to congregate due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, more than 100,000 pilgrims thronged the shrine on Sunday.
President Mnangagwa was accompanied by First Lady Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa, Vice President Costantino Chiwenga and his wife, Mrs. Miniyothabo Chiwenga, among other senior government officials.
During his speech as guest of honor, President Mnangagwa even expressed his astonishment at the crowd in front of him.
“There are a lot of people gathered here today, any direction I turn I can’t even see where the crowd stops. Several countries are represented there such as Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, the Kingdom of Eswatini and Angola. I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ,” he said amid thunderous ululations and whistles from church members.
Vice President Chiwenga, who is also Minister of Health and Childcare, noted that the multitude of church members was so huge that it made sense for the government to ban public gatherings during the past two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Founded in 1913, the church faced several challenges in its early years of conception, especially from the colonial establishment, which burned down a number of their schools for spreading “demonic spirituality”. .
For the past 46 years, every year July 20 has been commemorated by ZCC members as a very special day on the church calendar such as the day the founder, Reverend Samuel Mutendi, died at Defe Dopota in Gokwe South and was buried on July 24, 1976.
For many years, ZCC had commemorated the death of Rev. Mutendi on July 20 in Defe Dopota, but lately the church has moved the ceremony closer to the Heroes’ Day and Defense Forces Day commemorations in August to bring welcome workers and students as they take advantage of the long weekend.
For decades, ZCC members have traveled from across the country, Southern Africa and overseas to Defe Dopota every year for a special annual gathering at the shrine.
After turning left from the Gokwe Center-Chiteketa highway, a motorist travels about 15 km on a smooth dusty road to the Defe shrine.
The dusty road is well maintained to such an extent that the only noticeable difference to a motorist driving on the paved road is the cloud of dust that swirls around when driving on the smooth surface, making it easier for church members , even those with small vehicles. go to the shrine.
Last week, hundreds of buses and light vehicles of all shapes and sizes invaded Defe Dopota from all corners of the country and region.
The numbers rose on Sunday, a special Sunday for the church honored by President Mnangagwa.
Pedestrians from all over the country arrived earlier than motorists and there was a carnival atmosphere at the shrine.
Some members were housed in church lodges and guesthouses, others slept in their cars while thousands pitched tents in and around the sanctuary.
This annual event has grown so much that some who attend are curious visitors and traders who profit from the bustling business of the pilgrims every year.
Music was provided by the ZCC Dopota Marching Band and parish choral groups across the country and region.
ZCC leader Bishop Dr Nehemiah Mutendi said the church is growing by leaps and bounds every year.
Defe will forever remain one of the most popular religious heritage and Zionist pilgrimage destinations in this country and region.