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A phenomenological study on the causes of leadership succession disputes in the Zion Apostolic Faith Mission (ZAFM) in Zimbabwe.

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Succession is the greatest challenge facing most organizations in Africa in all circles of life. Most religious, social and political organizations and institutions seem to face many problems after the death of the founding figure. It seems Africa today has failed to have a smooth transfer of power from the current leader to the successor. Owing to the failures of leaders to appoint their successors particularly in the religious spheres, most church organizations often engage in bloody fights after the death of the principal leader. This makes succession disputes to be one of the greatest crises facing African Independent churches in Zimbabwe. Drawing from the situation in the Zion Apostolic Faith Mission (ZAFM) church of Andreas Shoko, this study looked at the reasons behind succession disputes. There have been limited attempts by African scholars to look at succession disputes in the ZAFM church from a conflict perspective. This study comes in to fill this gap in existing scholarly fraternity by proposing a new succession model. The study is anchored on a qualitative research design and it employed the existential phenomenological research method. The study made use of in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, narratives and document analysis as data collection tools. Responses from leaders, lay people and traditional leaders in the ZAFM church provided ethnographical data from which analysis emerged. The study established that political, social, religious and economic factors trigger succession disputes in the ZAFM church. Drawing from the various causes of succession disputes, the study proposed the Mentorship Succession Model (MSM). The MSM states that a successor has to be chosen from the church without specifically focusing only on the family of the bishop. This was an influence from African Tradition on the status of Chiefs and how they get succeeded. The bishop together with his Council of High Priests should be responsible in choosing the mentee and then present him to the whole church for approval. Once approved by the whole church then mentorship process can begin. The study argued that the ZAFM church in particular and AICs in general may minimize the occurrences of leadership contestations by adopting the MSM. This model calls for the mentoring of a successor by the incumbent bishop. The model requires the incumbent leader in conjunction with key office bearers in the church to identify the potential successor and then seek the approval of the whole congregation before the start of the mentoring process. This would minimize leadership contestations because of a number of reasons. The first reason is that the successor gets training from the incumbent before assuming power. The second reason is that the successor candidate is chosen basing on the v values agreed upon by the whole church. The third reason is that the successor candidate is chosen from a wide spectrum of potential office bearers without specifically focusing on the family of the incumbent bishop. The fourth reason is that the mentee gets time to be used to the church and adjust to the expectations of the church before finally assuming power. The study concluded that there are many causes of succession disputes in the ZAFM church that can be grouped into political, religious, social and economic factors. Chief among the political factors we have the urge to lead, the succession models used in the church, disagreement between kingmakers and nepotism. Religious factors on the causes of succession disputes included the sins of the bishop and his failure to demonstrate love, introduction of polygamy, failure to understand the backbone of Zionism, different interpretations of the bible failure to take discipline to mention just a few. Social factors are constituted by such issues as lack of a sense of identity and belonging, lack of a succession plan, lack of retirement age and package and lack of adjudication procedure for dispute resolution. The economic factors included greed, scramble for the deceased’s wealth and possessions and embezzlement of church funds.