In post-independence Zimbabwe, religion has been associated with piety and acquiescence rather than radical confrontation. This has made it look preposterous for religious leaders to adopt seemingly radical and confrontational stances in pursuit of peace and reconciliation. Since the early 2000s, a new breed of religious leaders that deploy radical and confrontational strategies to pursue peace has emerged in Zimbabwe. Rather than restricting pathways to peace and reconciliation to nonconfrontational approaches such as empathy, pacifism, prayer, meditation, love, repentance, compassion, apology and forgiveness, these religious leaders have extended them to demonstrations, petitions and critically speaking out. Because these religious leaders do not restrict themselves to the methods and strategies of engagement and dialogue advocated by mainstream church leaders, mainstream church leaders and politicians condemn them as nonconformists that transcend their religious mandate. These religious leaders have redefined and reframed the meaning and method of pursuing peace and reconciliation in Zimbabwe and brought a new consciousness on the role of religious leaders in times of political violence and hostility. Through qualitative interviews with religious leaders from a network called Churches in Manicaland in Zimbabwe, which emerged at the height of political violence in the early 2000s, and locating the discussion within the discourse of peace and reconciliation, this article argues that the pursuit of peace and reconciliation by religious actors is not a predefined and linear, but rather a paradoxical and hermeneutical exercise which might involve seemingly contradictory approaches such as “hard” and “soft” strategies. Resultantly, religio-political nonconformism should not be perceived as a stubborn departure from creeds and conventions, but rather as a phenomenon that espouses potential to positively change socio-economic and political dynamics that advance peace and reconciliation.
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