Pentecostalism, Politics, and Leadership in Zimbabwe

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Despite claims that formal institutions are increasingly being taken more seriously in Africa by placing constraints on African ‘big men’, the ‘big men’ phenomenon still persists in some African states. This is most evident when African leaders tend to flout the formal rules of the game whenever it suits them to do so. This thesis examines this phenomenon in Zimbabwe, through a study of leadership in political parties, civil society, and Pentecostal churches in Harare.

The political parties, civil society and Pentecostal churches in Harare are all wrought with ‘big men’. By the term ‘big men’, I refer to the autocratic and personalised nature of the leadership structures within each of these spheres. The core questions which this thesis seeks to explore are:
•Is it the same type of autocracy at play within each of these spheres?
•How is leadership being conceptualised within each sphere?
•Are conceptions of leadership changing with each generation of leaders or have they remained the same?
•And finally, how are popular conceptions of leadership informing the way in which leadership is being practised and understood?
To explore these questions, the thesis draws on extensive fieldwork exploring the work, experience and ideas of people working in each of the three spheres and draws on aspects of Shona culture and religion to build understandings about leadership in Zimbabwe.

The thesis argues that the religious, political, and civic spheres are mutually reinforcing as significant parallels can be drawn between the autocratic leadership structures within these spheres. In drawing on these parallels, the thesis develops an analytical framework which provides insights into how this leadership works and how it is legitimated. These insights are presented in the form of a triad which is termed as the ‘3-P Triad of Leadership’. The triad illustrates how legitimacy is conferred upon leaders within different spheres and contexts through adherence to informal rules, norms, processes, and networks all of which serve to provide disincentives for these leaders to comply with the formal rules of the game. The triad will show how the aspects of personification, paternalism, and patronage work in consolidating the power of the ‘big men’ in the different spheres. The thesis will therefore show how the reproduction of systems of power takes place within different spheres and contexts.

The thesis is based on material gathered through researching political groups, civic groups, and church groups in Harare between June 2017 to November 2018. A total of 80 in-depth interviews and 23 focus groups were conducted with politicians, political party supporters, religious leaders, congregants, civic leaders, activists, traditional leaders, and members of the general citizenry. Participant observations were conducted at political rallies, civic workshops, and church services.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Gallagher, Julia, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jun 2021
Publication statusUnpublished - 7 May 2021


  • political leadership
  • autocratic regimes
  • Zimbabwe
  • Religion and Politics
  • Pentecostalism
  • Royal Holloway

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