Zion Christian Church

South Africa Table of Contents

The largest and fastest-growing of the African independent churches in the 1990s is the Zion Christian Church. Its members, estimated to number between 2 million and 6 million in more than 4,000 parishes, live primarily in urban townships and rural communities. The church is well known by the abbreviation, ZCC, pronounced "zed-say-say." The ZCC was established in 1910 by Engenas Lekganyane, a farm worker in a rural area that later became Zion City, in the Northern Province. Lekganyane was educated by Scottish Presbyterian missionaries, and the church reflects some elements of that religion. The ZCC took its name from Biblical references to the Mount of Zion in Jerusalem, based in part on the inspiration of a similar community in Zion, Illinois.

The highlight of the ZCC religious calendar is the Easter celebration, which has drawn more than 1 million church members for several days of religious services at Zion City. Zionist beliefs emphasize the healing power of religious faith, and for this reason ZCC leaders sometimes clash with the traditional healers, or sangomas , who are important in many belief systems. Despite occasional conflicts, however, the ZCC respects traditional African religious beliefs, in general, especially those concerning the power of the ancestors to intercede on behalf of humans.

ZCC beliefs are eclectic, but the church's practices are often strict. The ZCC proscribes alcoholic beverages, smoking, and eating pork. It condemns sexual promiscuity and violence. As a result, church members have become known in the business community for their honesty and dependability as employees.

The growth of the independent churches was spurred by the antiapartheid movement. Nevertheless, because devout ZCC members place their spiritual agenda ahead of earthly politics, they generally avoided antiapartheid demonstrations and organizations. As a result, ZCC members were often shunned, and some were even attacked, by antiapartheid militants. President Mandela is popular among ZCC members in the 1990s, however, in part because of his political moderation and antiviolent rhetoric.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress