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All Answers. On the Phenomenal Success of a Brazilian Pentecostal Charismatic Church in South Africa.

Authors:
©   , , | ./_
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During the ’s election campaign in 2009 for instance, Ray McCauley gave president Zuma
an exclusive platform to speak in his Johannesburg church while the  took sides in a
dispute over constitutional court judges and campaigned against South Africa’s liberal
abortion and same-sex laws (Alcock 2009:6; Chidester 2012:173; Mataboge 2009; Rossouw
2009:4).
 
All Answers
On the Phenomenal Success of a Brazilian Pentecostal Charismatic
Church in South Africa
Ilana van Wyk
Entering the South African Religious Arena
In 1990, the South African government unbanned the African National
Congress () and released Nelson Mandela from prison. These momentous
decisions initiated an era of extreme violence, of intense political negotiations
and of the intervention of various church and religious groups in national
politics (Anderson 2000; Anderson 2004:109; Etherington 1996:212; Freston
2001b:171–172). In the process of mediating between political parties and of
reckoning with the horrors of apartheid, the balance of power between various
church organisations in South Africa shifted dramatically. The once powerful
Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church), which used to
rationalise and consolidate white support for the apartheid government, lost
prominence in the new dispensation (De Gruchy 1997:163–165).
Less predictable was the South African Council of Churches ()’s loss of
eminence. Consisting of the country’s established mission churches, the 
had been openly critical of apartheid since the 1960s (Lemopoulos 2004), sup-
ported resistance leaders (Sapa 1997; De Gruchy 1997:162–165), called for inter-
national economic sanctions (Etherington 1996:212) and mediated talks
between the apartheid government and the  (Anderson 2000; Anderson
2004:109; Etherington 1996:212; Freston 2001b:171). Having once mobilised reli-
gious opposition to apartheid, the  adopted a policy of “critical engage-
ment” with the  in 1995. Consequently, when the  established a
National Interfaith Leaders’ Council (), it excluded the  (Chidester
2012:173; Rossouw 2009:4). As the  became increasingly inuential in gov-
ernment circles, the  lost political ground to Charismatic- and to African
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During apartheid, s studiously avoided overt political action as they focussed on healing
individual bodies (Freston 2001b:173; Schofeleers 1991). Comarof (1985) asserted that their
focus on healing provided symbolic resistance to the ills of apartheid.
Other well-known s in South Africa included the Hateld Christian Church, the Durban
Christian Centre, the Hillcrest Christian Fellowship, and the Victory Faith Centre (Anderson
2005:76; Paul 1987:11–13; Thompson 1995:88–89, 144).
 Like s in other parts of the world, South African s initially shunned politics in favour
of a spiritual approach to righting the world (Bialecki 2009:110–123; cf. Anderson 2005:74–76;
De Gruchy 1997:164–168; Thompson 1995:3–15, 53–85, 125–130). Although the Durban
Christian Church and Rhema ministries have welcomed black members since the late 1980s,
other s invited well-known American televangelists such as Jimmy Swaggart, Pat
Initiated Churches (s), both forms of Christianity that were once at the
margins of respectability in South Africa (Anderson 2005:72–85; Freston
2001b:172; Gallagher 2002; Moon 2008; Tutu 1999; Wilson 2001:123–153).
Away from the political limelight and the jostling of established South
African churches, the early 1990s also saw an inux of a number of Nigerian,
Kenyan and Ghanaian preachers into South African townships (Anderson
2005:66–83). Men like Emmanuel Eni from Nigeria fascinated black audiences
with their high-powered sermons and with their confessions of previous
involvements with witchcraft and dark powers (Eni 1988). These preachers
introduced the prosperity gospel to the townships and devoted large portions
of their sermons to exorcisms and to a spiritual war against Satan (Anderson
2005:66–83; Giford 2001:64). Apart from the high drama of these sermons, the
African preachers ofered their congregants an alternative Christian future in
which their rewards were not deferred to life after death. Theirs was a
Christianity of the here-and-now that found particular resonance with the
concerns of South Africans on the cusp of a new age.
The Nigerian, Kenyan and Ghanaian preachers’ twin emphases on prosper-
ity and spiritual warfare were also the dening features of an international
Pentecostal movement that started in the late 1970s (Coleman 2000; Freston
2001b:15–20; Robbins 2004a:121–137). The movement was especially popular in
South America (César 2001:32; Corten & Marshall-Fratani 2001:5–10; Giford
2001:64–71) and in Nigeria (Ayuk 2002; Ojo 1988), Ghana (Hackett 1998), Zambia
(Ter Haar 1992), Malawi (Van Dijk 1998) and Zimbabwe (Maxwell 1998).
Through established missionary and Christian networks, the movement
reached South African shores within months of its inception. Although it gave
birth to large Independent “third-wave” Pentecostal Charismatic Churches
(s) such as the Rhema ministries in South Africa, its impact was largely
limited to white Christians (Anderson 2005:76; Giford 2001:62–63; Paul
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Robertson and Kenneth Copeland to preach in their churches. These pastors praised the sup-
posed “Christian values” inherent in apartheid (Anderson 2005:71; cf. Walshe 1983:384).
 The  publishes the addresses of all its branches on its website: www.uckg.org.za/about/
locations. Accessed:26/05/2014.
 The  does not publish its current intake of new pastors but in 1999 the church already
talked of “preparing 500 native pastors for Africa in Johannesburg” (Freston 2005:50).
At the start of my eldwork in 2004, these buildings were known as “Cathedrals of Faith.
In the last two years, this changed to “Cenacles of the Holy Spirit.
1987:11–13; Thompson 1995:88–89, 144). Ten years later, as the state relaxed its
controls over the movements of black South Africans and as travel restrictions
to the country were lifted, the  movement started to penetrate the worlds
of black Christians. In the townships,  adherents, also known as “Born
Agains,” denounced s, proclaiming their embrace of local “tradition” as un-
Christian (Anderson 2005:69). Local young men connected to the new African
preachers soon started their own ministries and churches (Anderson 2005:
69–81) and, like their mentors, tried to cultivate lucrative connections to inter-
national  networks (Maxwell 1997:148). For the most part however, they
remained nancially less successful than “white” s (Anderson 2005:88).
It is against this background that the Universal Church of the Kingdom of
God (), a  of Brazilian origin, rst entered South Africa. Like the
Nigerian, Kenyan and Ghanaian s that preceded it, the  entered
South Africa without much fanfare and with no connections to established
church networks. The church opened its rst South African branch in 1992
among a small, white, Portuguese-speaking community in Johannesburg- with
modest success (Pires 2004:24). In 1993, the  shifted its missionary focus
to black South Africans and started to attract large numbers of followers. It
quickly became one of the fastest growing churches in South Africa (Freston
2005:33–65). To date, the  has opened 320 branches and is a visible pres-
ence in all major towns and cities in the country’s nine provinces ( web-
site 2014). The church distributes hundreds of thousands of free newspapers
weekly, has a sophisticated website, a national call-centre and a pastor training
centre in Johannesburg. It also produces and runs daily television- and radio
programmes on the national broadcaster’s networks. Moreover, the  has
ambitious expansion plans and builds large cathedrals in prime urban loca-
tions. My eldwork in the , which started in 2004, coincided with the
building of the “Cathedral of Faith in Soweto, which was to be the largest
church in South Africa with a seating capacity of over 8 000 people. Both pas-
tors and members boasted about the cost of the church, which was expected
to run into “billions of Rands.” These costs were to be borne by South African
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 The  does not publish its nancial records and is secretive about its nancial afairs
(Birmann & Lehmann 1999:156), but in occasional court cases brought against the church,
nancial details are often leaked (Azzoni 2009).
 The ’s “agship” branches in Soweto and Pietermaritzburg seemed to be exceptions to
this rule (see van Wyk 2014).
church members. By all indications, the  could comfortably cover these
costs. Although its nancial returns were not made public, evidence sug-
gested that by 1997, South Africans were contributing more than $10 million
per year to the s cofers (Freston 2005:33–65). Given the ’s enor-
mous expansion since then, this income has probably increased at least
ten-fold.
The church continues to grow at a phenomenal rate and has become the
Brazilian church’s most successful foreign mission (Freston 2005:33–65). It
attracts large numbers of South Africans who stream to the church to be healed
of their poverty, illnesses, emotional- and social problems. Like other s, the
 preaches the prosperity gospel and urges its members to engage in a
spiritual war against Satan. However, unlike other s, the  actively
undermines the formation of church communities by discouraging “Christian
charity,” socialisation within its ranks and the formation of strong bonds
between congregations and pastors. As noted elsewhere (Van Wyk 2010:189–
203), the ’s constant transferral of pastors between branches and the pas-
tors’ minimal engagement with congregants outside services undermined
lasting bonds or loyalties between the clergy and congregations. The vast
majority of  branches also did not have choirs, prayer groups, women’s
and youth organisations or tearooms where congregants could participate in
the social life of the church. Baptisms, funerals and weddings were not cele-
brated as community afairs while pastors frequently cautioned members
against the probable evil intent of their fellow churchgoers. For their part, indi-
vidual members explained that they came to the  because in it they
did not have to deal with the gossip, “dressing competitions” and politicking
common in other churches; in this church people did not know one another.
Most members attended the church alone and often kept this information
secret from their loved ones because the church was widely reviled in local
townships. Such was the work involved in being anti-social in church that
many of my interviewees took public transport to attend branches that
were not situated in their local neighbourhoods. These patterns were also
discernible among the only stable “community” in the church- its volunteer
assistants. Among this group, “strong” assistants constantly guarded against
the dangerous intimacies of fellowship which could “take [them] out of the
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 Freston (2005:62) argued that the ’s global success was a “phenomenon of Christian
poverty” in which an “awareness of inequalities” stoked “the res of economic desire, thus
discouraging…acceptance and preparing the ground for the “revolt” against one’s condi-
tions which the Universal Church preaches” (Freston 2005:43). Like Brazil, South Africa
was apparently ripe for such “revolt” because it displayed gross economic disparities and
“spiralling crime rates” (Freston 2005:48). However, like Brazil, the country combined
these serious problems with good infrastructure, extensive urbanisation, “a certain cos-
mopolitanism and racial diversity.” As such, the  appealed to both “the disappointed
as well as to those who need moral reinforcement to take advantage of the new opportu-
nities” (Freston 2005:54).
spirit.” In this at least, the church presented an ethnographic anomaly (Van
Wyk 2010:189–203).
It is an anomaly that counters a large body of literature that attributes the
popularity of churches in Africa to their intense social nature and to the conse-
quent social benets that accrue to members that participate in these churches.
In this tradition, s were rst described as islands of intensive socialisation
where recently urbanised Africans learnt to adapt to the alienating city and it’s
challenging new economic realities (Daneel 1974:23–55; Fernandez 1978:212–
217; Kiernan 1981:142; Sundkler 1961:80–85; West 1975). Studying these “commu-
nity enterprises” (Fernandez 1978:217), anthropologists emphasised the
symbolic and ritual continuities between s and the village- or rural society
from which African Christians came (see Devisch 1996 on healing churches in
Kinshasa). In a similar manner, scholars explained the popularity of s in
terms of their social functions; their ability to “liberate” individuals from webs
of local kinship obligations (Meyer 1998a; Van Dijk 2001:216–232), to ofer an
alternative, tight-knit and enabling community and to shape individuals to
better adapt to modernity (Hackett 1998; Mate 2002; Maxwell 2005; Ojo 1988;
Van Dijk 1998)- with uneven results (Meyer 1995:236–255; 1998b:772–773).
Few authors have paid attention to the  as an “antisocial” church and
have instead attributed the ’s success to the structural similarities
between South Africa and Brazil (Freston 2005:33–65), to neoliberalism and
processes of modernisation (Comarof & Comarof 2003:528; Corten 2003:144)
and to the receptivity of previously marginalised South Africans to the millen-
nial promises of the ’s prosperity gospel (Corten 2003:137–146; Freston
2001b:203; Oro 2004:139–156). In this chapter, I ofer an alternative explanation
that takes account of the  as a religious organisation while also paying
attention to local understandings of prosperity, ecacy and belief. My inter-
pretation of the popularity of the  also tries to account for the church’s
peculiar social formations.
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 The stadium has an ocial seating capacity of 15 000 (Miya 2011).
 The church’s website published all the addresses of Durban branches (http://www.uckg
.org.za/about/locations/, accessed 12 July 2012).
The “All answers” Event
On the 20th of September 2010, an announcement on the Universal Church of
the Kingdom of God’s () website declared that 60 000 people had
attended its “All Answers” event at Currie’s Fountain Sport Stadium in Durban
(Titus 2010). Before the event, the organisers were condent that they would
be able to ll the stadium’s 15 000 sheltered seats but were worried that the
predicted cold and rain on the day would keep people from occupying the
pitch and grass embankments. There was some talk of moving the temporary
stage closer to the stands so that there would not be an embarrassing void
between the two. In the parlance of the s “strong” members, these fears
were not only unfounded but of demonic origin. They asserted that God would
not allow the church to be “defeated” and vowed to “ght” Satan so that the
event would be a success. Their faith was rewarded when thousands of people
streamed through the gates with umbrellas and plastic sheeting to protect
them from the elements. Entrepreneurs at the stadium’s entrances also sold
plastic bin bags, umbrellas and pieces of tarpaulin to the unprepared.
The “All Answers” event was attended by church members from all twenty
branches of the  in Durban. Since these branches were situated in the
city’s townships and working class areas, and since these areas were still bur-
dened by apartheid’s legacy of racial segregation,  members were gener-
ally black and relatively poor. The church’s pastors started to advertise the
event in late July and repeated the invitation in almost every one of their
six daily services. For  members, the “All Answers” event was the culmi-
nation of a period of concentrated nancial sacrice, of “prayer chains” and of
“spiritual ghting.” Many hoped that their attendance would mark the start
of a ow of God’s blessings into their lives as they had surrendered large
portions of their income and time in the preceding weeks so that God would
bless them with wealth, health, love and happiness.  members were
especially excited that the head of the  in South Africa would preside
over the event. Bishop Marcelo Pires was known as a “man of God.” In his
editorials in the church’s weekly newspaper and on its website he fre-
quentlyasserted that God would “answer” or bless those who “depend on” and
“trust in Him” (Masengemu 2010). Furthermore, in promotional literature for
the event, the  promised that Bishop Pires would “share the secret to a
fruitful life.”
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 Telephone interview with Mrs Nametso Mofokeng, 13 July 2012.
 The  pastors do not “prophesise” and the church does not have prophets. However,
both the practice and the role of prophets are elaborated in many local Christian
churches.
Eager for “answers, members showed up for the “blessed” event early
and secured standing room near the stage. Many of them were clutching slips
of paper on which they had written their requests to God. Although the
church’s uniformed assistants were handing out prayer requests by the hand-
ful, many people had brought theirs from home. They had received these
pieces of paper in the church’s services in the preceding months and had
anointed them with holy oils, -water and strong prayers on a daily basis.
Waiting for the event to start, several members were silently ngering their
requests.
Like other major events hosted by the  in Durban, this one had an
“open door” policy. The church’s spokesperson explained that the 
did not turn non-members away because they wanted to show people “what
the church is about” and how to “get help.” These were also reasons why non-
members attended the “All Answers” event; large numbers of them came to
learn the “truth” about the  while others hoped to get healed, blessed or
to receive a prophecy. A small group also came for the lively hymns and the
“word of God.”
To many passers-by and Christians in the city the “All Answers” event ofered
a spectacular kind of entertainment. Apart from the excitement of being in a
large crowd, the impressive sound system relayed the Johannesburg  gos-
pel choir’s performance while hymns during the service were accompanied by
live music. In conversations after the event, many “unbelievers” commented
that they were amazed by the Bishop’s “strong prayers” and by the erce exor-
cisms over which he presided. They were particularly impressed that the
Bishop could force demons to “manifest” and to “confess” their sins. For many
of these “unbelievers,” the most impressive part of the event, however, was the
testimonies by “blessed” members.
At Bishop Pires’ call for testimonies, people thronged to the stage to testify
about how the church helped them to “overcome” the demons that made them
poor, ill, unhappy or unpopular. They told how joining the s spiritual war
saw them transformed into wealthy municipal directors and businesspeople
after a lifetime of unemployment and “second-hand clothes.” Some testiers
bore witness to miraculous cures, “blessings” and unexpected jobs. After listen-
ing to these testimonies, some attendees asserted that “God had called them
for a reason” and that they “feel blessed already” (Titus 2010). Like many 
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 For instance, the Employment Equity Act (1995) and the Broad Based Black Economic
Empowerment Act (2003).
members, they embraced Bishop Pires’ assertion that Christians should not
accept their “miserable” lives and that they should strive to live “blessed” lives
like those of Biblical characters such as King Solomon. They believed that God
gave them “faith as a weapon” and vowed to “ght for what is rightfully [theirs]”
(Titus 2010). In the service, they shook their raised sts at Satan, shouted at
him to “Puma Satani!” [Get out/leave Satan!], and stomped their feet on his
defeated demons.
Religious Politics and Kitsch Christianity
To the city’s old anti-apartheid activists, the  event must have seemed
very familiar. In the rst instance, attendees at the event were, in the main,
black, poor and disenfranchised. Very few of them had their own cars and
most came to Currie’s Stadium in overloaded busses, minibus-taxis and
trains. Economically, the plight of black Durbanites had changed little in a
post-apartheid dispensation. Although the new South African government
introduced various laws to improve black people’s access to employment,
local jobs were fast disappearing. The restructuring of the country’s economy
removed trade barriers that bankrupted Durban’s textile industry and made
many migrant mineworkers to the Witwatersrand redundant (Crotty 2001;
Davies 2001:2; Le Roux 2001:226; Weeks 1999:795–811). These mineworkers
returned to Durban’s townships and augmented the numbers of unemployed.
In the latest census, Statistics South Africa (Stats ) put the number of unem-
ployed black people in Durban at 25% (StatsOnline nd). Stats , however,
used a minimal denition of the employed as “those aged 15–64 years who,
during the reference week: did any work for at least one hour; or had a job or
business” (Statistics South Africa 2011:xvi). Surveys of the city’s townships
using a more conventional denition of unemployment put the number of
unemployed at between 55% (Rausch 2002) and 60.8% (Mohamed 2002:5).
For many black families, meagre state pensions for the elderly and govern-
ment child support grants were their major, if not only, source of income.
Beyond demographic similarities, the s event was held at Durban’s
“most historically charged [political] site” (Rosenberg 2008:30). The area in
which Currie’s Stadium is situated was historically classied as a “non-white
area. Being close to the city centre, the stadium ofered an ideal location for
political rallies against colonial and apartheid authorities (Harrison 2004:78;
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 During the Deance Campaigns, black South Africans protested against the Group Areas
Act of 1950 which demarcated certain areas in cities for white occupation while forcefully
relocating black residents to “townships” on the margins of major cities.
 However, despite the stadium’s continued use, its historical importance as well as its loca-
tion at a major transport and trade node in the city, it is a rather neglected space. Forming
part of “Durban’s backyard” (Rosenburg 2008:29–31), Currie’s Stadium is poorly main-
tained and memorialised, echoing the fate of its patrons.
 During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the South African church establishment was further
polarised with the rise of Black Consciousness and Black Theology, especially as it mani-
fested in the University Christian Movement (Etherington 1996:210–212; De Gruchy 1997:
163–165). The  articulated a theology of resistance and a radical style of worship that
alienated the .
Rosenberg 2007). It was here that black Durbanites launched the Deance
Campaigns of the 1950s (Harrison 2004:78; Rosenburg 2008:30) and that lead-
ers of the struggle addressed crowds in the 1970s and 1980s (Rosenberg 2008:30).
People also gathered here during the political unrest of the early 1990s
(Harrison 2004:78; Rosenberg 2007; Rosenburg 2008:30). In post-apartheid
South Africa, Currie’s Stadium remained true to its working class roots and was
still a major meeting place for disgruntled municipal- ( 2011) and mine-
workers (Anon 2012). The ruling  also sponsored annual May Day celebra-
tions at the stadium (Ngwenya 2012).
There were many parallels between the content of the ’s “All Answers”
event and anti-apartheid rallies. Fiery church ministers often presided over
anti-apartheid rallies (Ramphele 1996:99–117; Sitas 1992:640), praying for
God’s material intervention, assuring “comrades” that their participation in the
struggle was a moral duty and declaring that God would deliver them from the
“absolute evil” of apartheid (Kairos Theologians 1985:2–28). Inuenced by
Black Consciousness and Black Theology (Etherington 1996:210–212; De Gruchy
1997:163–165), liberation was not just a narrowly political project but a millen-
nial one that promised imminent and radical changes in the material fortunes
of those dispossessed and marginalised (Comarof & Comarof 1999).
Some people in Durban’s townships were very critical of the s “All
Answers” event- and of other events that the church held at local sport stadi-
ums and in the streets of Durban. Their main concern was that these events
“confused” people because they were not clearly advertised as prayer- or evan-
gelical meetings; most meetings had headlines such as “Enough!,” “All Answers”
and “March against /.” Such critics pointed out that “desperate peo-
ple” would mistake these rallies for political meetings and that they did not
have the necessary wherewithal to question the church’s promises of riches
and healing; they were also supposedly too vulnerable to resist the ’s
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      
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 In Brazil, the  is known as Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus ().
demands of large sums of money. According to the s critics, the church’s
promises were ctional but due to their desperate economic circumstances,
the poor were the most likely victims of its swindle (see Ngema 1995). In the
townships, the  was well-known as a church that “like[d] money.” The
church’s critics thus accused it of cashing in on the symbolic political capital of
venues such as Currie’s Stadium to trick unsuspecting innocents out of their
hard-earned cash.
In Brazil, the  similarly expanded its activities and presence beyond
church buildings to sport stadiums, public auditoriums and cinemas. The
church also owned the second-largest television network in Brazil (Freston
2001a; Kramer 2002:29–30; Oro & Semán 2001:183) and elected  candi-
dates for municipal-, state- and federal elections (Kramer 2002; Oro 2003:
53–69). However, despite its enormous success, the  was not a widely
respected institution in Brazil (Birman 2006:52–59; Birmann & Lehmann
1999:145–164; Kramer 2002:41) and its leadership was often denounced for
deceiving poor and naïve people into making large nancial contributions to
the church (Freston 1993:111). Apart from this, the Catholic and secular media
regularly condemned the church for its supposed theological superciality
and for the ways in which it commercialized faith (Campos 1997) and fetishized
money (Oro 1993). For their part, scholars often hinted that the  was
nothing but a multinational corporation that erected an elaborate Christian
façade to hide its fundamentally commercial interests (Freston 2001b:17–21,
54–55; Oro 1996).
McDannell (1995:6) asserted that such analyses rested heavily on a “Puritan
model of religious historiography” that assumed that “whenever money is
exchanged religion is debased.” Her criticism has inuenced a number of
anthropologists who have tried to undermine the idea that s such as the
 are “missionaries of American capitalism,” “‘Junk Jesus’ merchants” or
that they promoted “Christian kitsch” (Coleman 2004:423–424). In their work,
they drew attention to the subtle ways in which Christians in s created
meaning, community and a relationship with God through the construction of
spaces and the exchange of money (Bialecki 2008; Coleman 2004:421–442;
Coleman 2006:175–180; Lindhardt 2009:41–67).
In the case of the , some anthropologists in Brazil have suggested that
the church’s involvement in national politics and the media as well as its erec-
tion of impressive buildings and its expansion beyond the narrow connes of
its church buildings had more to do with the church’s spiritual war than its
bottom line. Thus the  did not only enter politics to stop their public
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 This excludes South Africa. Freston (2005) asserts that the South African mission funds
the church’s expansion into the rest of Africa.
“persecution” (Freston 2001a:54) and to protect their nancial interests, but
also to afect “spiritual reform” in what the church deemed to be a spiritually
corrupt and unjust system (Oro 2003:57–60; Roca 2007:319–339). For this rea-
son, the church did not start its own party but elected “Politicians for Christ”
(Feliciano 2005:9) across the Brazilian political spectrum. By putting “God at
the centre of politics” (Feliciano 2005:9) and in every political party, the 
aimed to fundamentally reshape Brazil into a theocratic state (Oro 2003; Roca
2007:319–339).
When looking at the ’s business, missionary and media ventures in
Brazil, scholars have similarly shown that there was more at work than “pure
prot motives. For one thing, there are indications that the s foreign mis-
sions, and especially its African operations, run at a loss (Freston 2005:37–
40). On a more theoretical level, Kramer (2005:100–108) asserted that the
’s spectacular services, its monumental buildings and dramatic media
visualisations were attempts to express the church’s spiritual dominion in
visual form. Roca (2007:319–339) similarly argued that the s inltration
of various economic sectors and its appropriation of money contributed to its
political project of Christianising the country by reframing money as an object
of divine agency. Its circulation then was sacralised, extending God’s dominion
into the nation (Roca 2007:319–339).
Multinational Religion
The South African , echoing its parent organisation in Brazil, frequently
emphasised its eminent role in the “war against Satan.” It portrayed other reli-
gions and Christian churches as the creations of demonic powers and as major
facilitators of evil in the world (see Crivella 1999:25). In church services, 
pastors denounced Catholics for venerating “false idols,” condemned s
such as the local Shembe- and Zion Christian Churches () for praying to
the ancestors, criticised mainstream churches for their ignorance of spiritual
warfare and accused fellow s of “wasting” words and energy on “emotional”
forms of worship. “Strong” members similarly denounced their former
churches as inefective, weak or ignorant. They framed the ’s expansion,
organisation, public events and nancial emphasis in terms of a spiritual war
and identied themselves as “overcomers”; as people that triumph against
the devil.
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      
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At insinuations that the “All Answers” event for instance would be smaller
than expected,  members vowed that they would not be “defeated.”
In church services in the week leading up to the event, they fought the
demons that would make people “lazy to come,” that sapped their “spirits”
and that made them forget about the event. Some members even asserted
that the expected foul weather on the day was not an “accident” and that
Satan must have had a hand in it- as he did in all the obstacles the church
faced.
Many members also interpreted the ’s expenditures on massive cathe-
drals, public events and sleek television programmes as attacks on Satan.
Seeing the church’s continued expansion, they lived in anticipation of their
own looming fortunes. The  pastors justied these beliefs by declaring
that “the language of the world is money.” As the most important currency of
value, the pastors asserted that money was the medium through which people
should engage with God and through which Satan would attack them most
ercely. At the same time, the pastors often declared that “God is the owner of
all gold and silver” and that he would bless those who were “faithful” in their
tithes. God’s blessings then were quantiable, visible and in proportion to an
individual’s faith. In order to inhabit such blessings,  pastors stressed the
importance of learning to work with money, of managing it properly and of
multiplying it. They urged  members to imitate the rich, to learn from
successful businesspeople and to cultivate expensive tastes in readiness of
God’s blessings.
By the same token, the  as an organisation had copied the business
models of successful multinational organisations in its expansion, stang and
diversication. Unlike other Pentecostal churches, the  did not trust the
expansion of the church to individual pastors’ “calls” from the Holy Spirit to
start or join a church in a specic location (cf. Maxwell 2001:504; Muller 1999;
Robbins 2004a:130–131). Instead, these decisions were made by a small group of
bishops in Brazil and were based on considerable planning and research
(Freston 2005:38; Kramer 2002:30). Once a possible foreign mission was identi-
ed, the church determined its viability by setting up commissions to investi-
gate the probabilities of success. These commissions evaluated the most
appropriate local discourses, studied relevant tax- and property laws as well as
laws on religious expression and nongovernmental organisations. Based on
this research, they devised a legal constitution for the church, determined the
best location for its branches and rented or purchased buildings as required
(Freston 2001b:199; Freston 2005:37). Once these structures were in place, the
Brazilian bishops sent pastors and bishops abroad to ll and run the new
churches (Freston 2005:38). In their new stations, the pastors were subject to
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 The church claims a presence in over 80 countries (Freston 2005:34) and estimates its
membership at over 10 million people.
the authority and command of a national bishop who in turn reported to high
command in Brazil.
Interestingly, the  central command did not allow pastors or bishops
to stay in one place for more than a few months and constantly moved them
from one branch to another. This instability preserved both the survival and
the reputation of the church in diferent locations. In the rst instance, the
constant movement of pastors undermined the ability of individual charis-
matic pastors to build up loyal followings that could potentially split from the
church. This was in sharp contrast to other local churches, and especially
Pentecostal ones, that were plagued by frequent schisms and consequent
losses in members (e.g. Memela 2009). Furthermore, the pastors’ constant relo-
cation and the centralisation of decisions that guided this movement also
made it impossible to tell whether a pastor was expelled or transferred. This
secrecy served as a “built-in” reputational damage control measure since pas-
tors were not linked to the sex-, fraud- and money scandals that often rocked
local churches. This upheld the church’s own narrative that its pastors were
“strong men of God” who “overcame.
Beyond its stang and centralised command, the  also diversied its
nancial interests beyond the narrow concerns of other churches. The 
owned the second-largest television network in Brazil, scores of  and 
radio stations across the world, publishing houses, various newspapers, con-
struction companies, furniture factories, a bank, a travel agency, a commercial
airplane, recording studios and other parallel businesses (Freston 2001; Freston
2005; Kramer 2002:29–30; Oro & Semán 2001:183). These commercial enter-
prises were highly protable and complementary but were not administered
by the church. Instead, the administration of the ’s vast business empire
had been devolved to a holding company called  Consultoria (Freston
2001b:15–58; Oro & Semán 2001:183).
Local Ecacious Faiths
The Durban “All Answers” event showcased an organisation that successfully
translated its message in a location culturally very diferent from its native
Brazil (cf. Freston 2005:33–65). Even more remarkable was that the church
realised such translations in 320 branches across South Africa as well as
in thousands of branches abroad. Unlike earlier mission churches (see
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      
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Etherington 1978; Meyer 1999; Ranger 1993) however, the ’s sophisticated
indigenisation or localisations were done by people with no historical connec-
tions to South Africa, whose grasp of local languages were at best incomplete,
and who were constantly moving from one branch to another. It was also done
with no elaboration of a specic hermeneutics of understanding or reading
the Bible in the church. Indeed, very little Bible reading got done in this church
while members openly declared that memorising verses and rereading well-
known passages were “useless” in the spiritual war (see also Engelke 2007 on
the Masowe, the “Christians who do not read the Bible”). This of course begged
a few questions. Given the church’s neglect of words and their meanings, what
was the content of their religion? How did locals understand the pastors’ mes-
sage? And why had the  found such local resonance among South African
Christians?
To answer these questions, we return to Durban and to the reasons why
people attended the church’s “All Answers” event. People attended the event to
“learn the truth” about the church, to receive blessings or to enjoy the Christian
entertainment on ofer. Those who came to learn the “truth” about the church
were familiar with the various rumours that circulated in the townships about
the . These rumours centred on the  members’ and pastors’ sup-
posed invisible communion with occult forces and on the “strange” things that
allegedly happened in the church. In a context where people widely ascribed
misfortune, bad luck and illness to the work of witches and invisible evil forces,
these rumours were not just stories; they warned of the dangers and ambigui-
ties inherent in the communion with the invisible. In the , this commu-
nion saw pastors not only contacting God but also conversing with demons in
their exorcisms. Many newcomers to the church expressed their amazement
that Bishop Pires could force such confessions from unwilling demons. As with
the local sangomas (healers), they suspected that Bishop Pires and his pastors
must have known something about the evil they were confronting to be able to
command and communicate with it.
These truth-seekers were also surprised at the magnitude of blessings in the
; in their experience, invisible sources exacted heavy tolls on humans for
their generosity. In the townships, there were many stories of taxi-owners, poli-
ticians and ambitious people who, either knowingly or naïvely made pacts
with invisible forces to deliver the kind of blessings that  members
testied about. Once rich, powerful, healed and popular, these unfortunate
people were forced to kill their loved ones to satisfy their bloodthirsty benefac-
tors. Since witches and people that communed with evil forces were indistin-
guishable from regular people, it was hard to trust people on face value- even
if they were preachers. For this reason, not all truth-seekers that attended
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the “All Answers” event were convinced that the  was an innocuous
Christian organisation. They muttered about the uncertainties of the testiers’
futures and about the impossibility of penetrating the intentions of powerful
people. What all of them agreed about was that the  had access to enor-
mous power.
Not everyone listened to “stories” and many attendees came to the 
event for help or for the communion with other Christians. Although black
Christians in Durban often declared strong aliations to certain churches or
denominations, their attendance at broadly dened Christian events and at
other churches in the city was rather unrestrained. Township residents con-
stantly invited their neighbours, family and friends to attend their churches
for special sermons and celebrations, to be healed or blessed or just to visit.
Welcoming newcomers and visitors was a regular feature of most church ser-
vices in the townships. Recruiting new members was another. As in other parts
of Africa, Christians in Durban changed religious aliations fairly often. This
was seldom for doctrinal reasons. Most people were in search of religious e-
cacy and constantly renewed their commitment and “will to believe” in each
church they joined (Kirsch 2004).
Durbanites certainly had a wide range of churches to choose from- with
more churches and prayer groups constantly cropping up all over the city.
The city’s historic mission churches included the Methodist-, Presbyterian-
and Anglican churches, various Baptist churches, German and Scandinavian
Lutheran churches, the Dutch Reformed-, Wesleyan- and Roman Catholic
churches. Older Pentecostal and Zionist churches met in the city’s open elds
where circles of white-painted rocks demarcated their ritual space while mem-
bers wore long, owing white robes. Since the end of apartheid, the city had
also seen a raft of s from other parts of Africa and American-style gospel
churches setting up church in the townships. These new groups often shared
established church buildings with other denominations or erected large tents
on open elds while smaller groups met in front rooms, school halls, garages,
and backyards.
Beyond these overtly “religious” spaces, Durban’s independent iterant
preachers frequently addressed people on trains, minibus taxis, public squares
and on busy city corners. Among regular churchgoers, evangelising was com-
mon and taken up with great enthusiasm in public spaces and in the privacy of
people’s homes. Since an estimated 80% of black South Africans were Christian
(Stats  2001), Christianity formed an integral part of township life. Business,
social and political meetings in the townships often started with a prayer while
gospel music and gospel ringtones for mobile phones were very popular. Local
football, netball and athletics teams often only ran onto the eld once they had
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      
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 The Nazareth Baptist Church, also called the Shembe church, held annual meetings in
Judea near Eshowe where 25 000 gathered. Similar numbers of people also gathered at
Nhlangagazi on the rst Sunday of the New Year.
 Pentecostalism rst came to South Africa in 1908, two years after the movement started in
Azusa Street, California (Maxwell 1997; Sundkler 1961:32–38; Thompson 1993:1–22).
Pentecostal preachers in South Africa quickly embraced divine healing, which became a
distinctive feature of the South African movement (Maxwell 1999:247–250). This, and the
adoption of certain Pentecostal features within s at the time, made it hard to draw
clear distinctions between Pentecostal churches and s in South Africa (Daneel 1970;
Sundkler 1961).
a team prayer with many sports stars attributing their success to the interven-
tion of God or Jesus. For their part, minibus taxis and shops in the area com-
monly plastered Bible verses and Christian symbols on their walls to ward of
criminals and accidents. Many township residents similarly decorated their
homes with church calendars, pictures of their church founders or pastors,
Biblical scenes and verses, church uniforms and paraphernalia from church
celebrations. Local newspapers published Bible verses on their letters pages
while most local radio stations aired religious programmes.
Although the ’s “All Answers” event formed part of the overall Christian
landscape of the city, it was also somewhat unusual. The event was much larger
than the weekly Christian oferings in the city and consciously catered to
“unbelievers” or non-members. Most churches in Durban were small and could
seat but a few hundred people at a time. In the townships, where space was
limited, this number often dropped to the capacity of a single room. Mega-
churches of the size of those in Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia and Kenya (Ayuk 2002;
Hackett 1998; Ojo 1988; Ter Haar 1992), where hundreds of thousands of people
congregate on a weekly basis, had not emerged in Durban. The city’s largest
churches, namely the Durban Christian Centre’s Jesus Dome and the ’s
main cathedral could seat about 2 000 people each. A rally of 60 000 people
was certainly unusual, especially if it was open to all.
The ’s event was also extraordinary for the emphasis it placed on an
ecacious, materially orientated faith; a faith that delivered “all answers.
Although local Pentecostal churches and s ofered faith-healing as part of
their ministry (Anderson 2000; Maxwell 1999:247–251), the  made this
and other “results” the cornerstone of theirs. Its pastors denounced other local
churches for “wasting” words and energy on “emotional” forms of worship
instead of “ghting Satan.” They were especially scornful of churches that
encouraged people to “rest in the spirit,” that spoke in tongues and that ignored
the poverty and “miserable lives” of their congregants. Instead, the 
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encouraged their members to cultivate a “strong intelligent faith.” Intelligent
faith referred to an individual’s rational ability to appreciate that God was not
swayed by emotions but by faithful actions. Urging people to use their “intelli-
gence,” the pastors often pointed out that there was a pattern to God’s behav-
iour; in the Old Testament, God not only prescribed sacrices and tithes but
also “honoured” those who were faithful in their tithes and generous in their
sacrices. They assured their congregations that “God [did] not change” and
that if they used the same “technologies,” they would be blessed. At the “All
Answers” event, Bishop Pires assured newcomers that all their problems could
be solved in the  –if they joined the ght against Satan, if they tithed and
if they “praised” God with money.
Unlike other local churches, the ’s “answers” did not require individu-
als to convert, to become “Born Again” or to confess their sins publicly. As one
of my friends in the church remarked, “In those churches you are just born
again and again and again and that mama (lady) will tell the same story every
week…but nothing changes, her life is the same.” Although Thandi called her-
self a member of the , she did not ll out a membership form or buy a
uniform or sign up to committees in church nor was she baptised in the church;
the  required none of this. When she left the church to join the Durban
Christian Church, none of the pastors came to her house to try and dissuade
her. Similarly, no one ridiculed her when she returned to the  a few
months later; few of the people she knew in the church were still there. It was
in this same spirit that the ’s spokesperson accepted that many of those
who came to the “All Answers” and other events would not become members
and that they would “leave again as soon as they received help.” It was an atti-
tude very diferent from other local churches and one that placed little empha-
sis on conventional Christian concerns with church community or ecclesia
(see Tennent 2005:171–177).
In its lack of sociality and its emphasis on a materially ecacious faith, the
 resembled what Augé (1995) referred to as a “non-place.” Like people
who entered supermarkets and airports,  members were not concerned
with their relational or historical connection to the church, its leadership or
other members but shared a desperate commitment to attain their own bless-
ings. The  seemed to not only support but positively encouraged this
drive. Its clergy insisted that all problems were caused by demons and that
these demons often resided in other people. Apart from their possible infec-
tiousness, other people were also said to act as unwitting instruments of Satan.
To overcome these demons, people had to join the invisible ght against
Satan. In the , this meant that individuals had to stop relying on
other people, the “word informations” of the Bible and the “useless” praise and
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153
      
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worship services in other churches. Instead, the  pastors enjoined their
congregants to act. Acting against Satan meant that people had to attend regu-
lar church services and exorcisms. They also had to make “Chains of Prayers,”
pay their tithes and sacrice money in church. Since these actions were care-
fully prescribed but not analysed, usually incorporated a material element and
were touted for their ecacy, they resembled religious “technologies.” The
dearth of socialisation and doctrinal explication in the church then meant that
 members’ interpretations of the church’s services, the ecacy of its
technologies and its “war against Satan” relied heavily on a wider, non-
social and religious imaginary.
In many ways, the ’s religious “technology” picked up threads from
various local traditions and beliefs. Its emphasis on a transactional relation-
ship with God paralleled the prescriptions of local sangomas and s who
urged their clients to remedy relationships with their ancestors in order to
efect healing, prosperity and social harmony. Sangomas often asserted that
the ancestors needed to “eat” before they could help their progeny and pre-
scribed various animal sacrices to realise this transaction. Like the ,
sangomas also emphasised that the act of sacrice was not enough and that it
had to be accompanied by strong petitions to the ancestors to restore a ow of
blessings. In s, prophets and preachers similarly tried to appease and peti-
tion the ancestors because they were said to act as mediators between the liv-
ing and God (Anderson 2000; Vilakazi, Mthethwa & Mpanza 1986).
The ’s assertion that illness, poverty and social discord stemmed from
demonic blockages in the ow of God’s blessings was very close to local con-
ceptions of “bad luck.” People in Durban’s townships, and in other parts of
South Africa (see Ashforth 2005; Niehaus 2001), often did not separate health
issues from family problems, unemployment, poverty or unhappiness but
treated them as things of the same kind. Problems in any specic sphere of life
were merely manifestations of a general condition of being “unlucky” or
bewitched. Witches, like Satan and his demons, were then said to “vala’madlosi
(to block the ancestors) in order to cause misery and harm.
The s conception of Satan and his demons was also analogous to local
ideas about evil. Whereas witches were once thought to only attack their fam-
ily and friends, there was an increasing awareness in Durban’s townships that
witches were able to transcend their traditional boundaries to attack people
beyond their own kin and neighbourhood. And, like demons in the ,
these witches were constantly “upgrading” their tactics to overcome those that
obstructed their evil in the world (Van Wyk 2010). The s conception of
the work of demons was in sharp contrast to other s. In churches such as
Rhema Bible Church and the Durban Christian Church, converts were given
0002176869.INDD 153 7/15/2014 9:02:01 PM
154  
300311
 Christians in the  tradition often quote Matthew 12:43–45 to prove that an exorcised
demon would return with “seven other spirits more wicked than itself” (New International
Version).
the opportunity to rid themselves of the inuence and sinful pollution of their
earlier attachments through being “Born Again” (Maxwell 1998; Meyer 1998a;
van Dijk 1998; van Dijk 2001:218–222). In the process, these s did not only
combat but also contained evil (Ciekawy & Geschiere 1998:8; Marshall-Fratani
2001:98–102), largely because they maintained that the power of the Holy Spirit
was superior or was of a diferent order than the supernatural powers of
witches and demons (Meyer 1999). This was not the case in the ; even
strong Christians empowered by the Holy Spirit could be overcome by demonic
forces through no fault of their own and often as a consequence of their spiri-
tual ghts against Satan.
Whereas other local churches attributed demonic possessions to the moral
agency of the victim, the  insisted that demons upgraded their tactics
and spread like viruses. Anyone could pick them up “in the road,” through their
contact with other people and by unwittingly touching things infected by
witchcraft. Demons also spread through emotions and thoughts while witches,
family members and “unknown” people could also send demons into some-
one’s life. The very nature and abilities of demons combined with the spiritual
permeability of the human body made demonic possessions inevitable and
the spiritual war inescapable (see also Lindhardt’s contribution to this vol-
ume). In the , this inevitability was exacerbated by the very technologies
that the church deployed in their ght against demons.  pastors and
members noted that each exorcised demon created seven demon-shaped
holes in the body’s rmament. Despite facing exponential dangers as they
fought against the demons that undermined their lives,  members
insisted that people could not live with demons and that they had to be exor-
cised. Dismissing the possibility of redemption, the ’s view was pessimis-
tic. However, for many of its members, the s “realism” was more plausible
than the “words and emotions” of other s while its pragmatism ofered
temporary relief. In many ways, such views stroked with the church member-
ship’s real-life experiences of continued poverty, illness and social strife.
Conclusion: Some answers
The ’s phenomenal success in post-apartheid South Africa had been a
source of much speculation. Scholars generally attributed the church’s growth
0002176869.INDD 154 7/15/2014 9:02:02 PM
155
      
300311
to new political and economic processes while the South African media and the
church’s critics suspected that the s attraction was carefully manipulated
by a predatory multinational business. Beyond the structural reasons why the
 might be attractive to South Africans, I have paid attention in this chap-
ter to local “cultural” reasons why the church had such wide appeal. I showed
that the church’s prosperity gospel and its spiritual warfare provided “answers”
that were almost immediately grasped by people in search of religious ecacy.
The ’s “answers” were also contingent in ways that converged with local
ideas about witchcraft and the ow of prosperity from the spiritual to the mate-
rial world. Unlike other Christian churches then, the  did not ofer attend-
ees at its services an escape from the work of evil in the world. Instead, the
church depicted Christians as fundamentally constrained because of their situ-
atedness in the world and their fallibility as transactors with their spiritual
benefactor. In the  then, people were often told that their blessings would
not materialise unless they tithed and sacriced to God. Although this version
of Christianity was arguably less poetic or hopeful than the millenarian prom-
ises of other s, it rang true for many South Africans who remained poor, ill
and unhappy despite political liberation. As one of my friends in the church
remarked, “They are not new but their message is very strong.”
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