Small Christian Communities as the Locus for Social Transformation in Zimbabwe

By Edson Mlambo, SVD

For the past decade Zimbabwe has experienced a political crisis that reached its climax with violence. In 2008 Zimbabwe was affected by political violence which undermined the very essence of human dignity. It was manifested in four ways, that is, intimidation, beatings, arson and murder. In terms of intimidation, all forms of threats were used from verbal to physical threats. Most of the people who were the masterminds and the perpetrators of violence are Catholics. This left the church divided in terms of political party affiliation. It left people full of hatred and animosity. This is testified to by the Catholic Commission of Justice and Peace (CCJP) co-ordinators in Zimbabwe.

On the 23 February 2012 during the Tangaza College School of Theology Theological Symposium in Nairobi, Kenya, Father Paul Bere, SJ taught that at the Second African Synod, the bishops saw the need of the church to come up with political theology that will help the church to be actively involved in politics. He also talked of the way in which the church in Latin America used Small Christian Communities (SCCs) in transforming their socio-political situation. He mentioned that documents have been published of guidelines on how the teachings of the Second Vatican Council can be taught and implemented in Small Christian Communities. This talk by Father Bere motivated me to reflect on how the church in Zimbabwe can use Small Christian Communities as places or loci of fulfilling its mandate of reconciliation and prophetic mission in transforming the current socio-political situation in Zimbabwe.

The fact that Catholics were involved in violence as masterminds and perpetrators calls on the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe to reflect critically and honestly about the way it deals with political crises in Zimbabwe and the way it implements its programmes of Catholic Social Doctrine. Political problems are addressed through pastoral letters that have not proven to be effective. The content of the pastoral letters is good. However, the problem is that pastoral letters are effective in places where people have developed a culture and interest in reading spiritual books and church documents. In Zimbabwe only a handful of people have this culture and interest of reading serious books. Reading the letters once in the parish after mass does not put across the message that it is intended to be communicated. In view of this we argue that Small Christian Communities can be the right places whereby people can be conscientized, sensitized and formed through education about the socio-political issues that affect them.

Small Christian Community leadership must be trained so that they will be well equipped with necessary counselling techniques, conflict management and resolution skills, and issues related to justice and peace. There should also be implementation of structures of justice and peace in the Small Christian Communities. The reason why we think that training of Small Christian Community leaders is crucial is because as residents of the areas involved in the conflict, they would be more likely to know the underlying grievances of the community and things happening in the community. During my pastoral year in Zimbabwe we noticed that during the political violence most of the members of the Small Christian Communities had that desire and good will to promote peace. The only stumbling block is that they did not have the skills and knowledge of doing it. For those who attempted to promote peace, if they had the necessary skills and knowledge their work will have been enriched considerably. In view of this we contend that training the leaders in Small Christian Communities about these skills that we have mentioned above will help since they are the people on the ground in the community and are aware of issues happening within the community. In cases whereby Christians are involved in violence, the Small Christian Communities can create a conducive atmosphere for self reflection at individual and community levels that can help in bringing people to reason together to get solutions to their problems.


In his papal visit to Benin in November, 2011 to launch the apostolic exhortation Africa’s Commitment, Pope Benedict XVI said that the guideline for the African Church in carrying out its mandate of prophetic mission is the Compendium for the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church. In view of what the pope said we think that Small Christian Communities are the right places where the teachings of the social doctrine of the church can be taught. There is an adage which says, The best kept secret in the Catholic Church is its social doctrine.”

In the case of Zimbabwe this saying is true. Because many Catholics were involved in political violence we made a research to find out why this happened while the church has good teachings on social doctrine. Our findings were that many of our lay faithful are ignorant about the social teachings of the church and also the teachings of the church about democracy and other political issues. In view of this the church in Zimbabwe should use its structures of justice and peace in parishes effectively to implement programmes of integral education of Christians in Small Christian Communities about social justice, non-violence, human rights and important political and economic issues affecting the nation both locally and internationally. In the Small Christian Communities the church should denounce without fear any violations of human rights, incitation to violence, corruption, social injustice, tribal and racial discrimination and confiscation of power by one group.

Another important thing that we noticed about Small Christian Communities is that it is a new way of being the church as the family of God. It stresses the idea of the church as the family. It is a group of families that come together to form the Christian community. The family is the basic cell of the society. A society with loose family values is greatly affected by violence. In such situations it becomes easier for the politicians to manipulate the youth and use them for violence. By nurturing true values of family life in Small Christian Communities, the church will contribute in building up a good society. It should be in the Small Christian Communities that the values of respect for human dignity, solidarity, love, peace, compassion and peaceful ways of settling disputes be taught. In order for us to be peaceful and peace makers we should educate ourselves with these values in our families in the Small Christian Communities. Authentic families should be promoted in Small Christian Communities.

Our modern life in Zimbabwe has changed many things about the way in which young people are taught values and what the society expects from them. Long ago our ancestors lived in extended families. Our aunts, uncles and grandparents used to play a very significant role of teaching the young about family life and important values. What we noticed during our pastoral experience is that Small Christian Communities have taken on the role of the extended family. Youth from different Small Christian Communities in Zimbabwe come together once a year and have workshops in which they are taught about important values of the community and what the society expects from them. Such programs can be used effectively by the church to educate the youth about important issues regarding politics, respect for human life and dignity, co-existence and living together. This can be used to change the political situation since youth are the ones who are used for political violence.

One thing that we noticed is that Small Christian Communities have become the center for church ministry. In the midst of shortages of clergy and religious, lay animators of Small Christian Communities have become the primary religious educators. Slowly they are becoming agents of ministry in the area of catechesis, liturgy and social justice. The implication of this is that they have to be well trained in these areas so that they can do their ministry well. This can contribute in the spiritual nourishment and growth of the SCCs members. This can contribute to social transformation in Zimbabwe.


Edson Mlambo, SVD is a Deacon in the Society of the Divine Word Missionaries. He is from Zimbabwe and finished his Theological Studies at Tangaza College in Nairobi, Kenya in May, 2012. He will be ordained a priest on the 28th of July 2012 at St Bernard Parish in the Archdiocese of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe.  This paper was written in March, 2012 in the course on "Small Christian Communities as a New Model of Church in Africa Today."