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From Devil Street to Florida Street: The politics and theology of changing names

THE civic name for the street in Emmasdale, Lusaka that made much news this past week is Florida Street. However, the local people nicknamed it devil street due to the many vices practised on this street such as drugs, prostitution and alcohol abuse. In the past, both the Lusaka City Council and the Zambia Police have invaded this devil street at various times to close all the illicit businesses going on in the area. It appears like the vices keep bouncing back.

On Saturday October 12, 2019, the mayor of the city of Lusaka Miles Sampa, together with cabinet minister Honourable Reverend Godfridah Sumaili, went to exorcise the devil from devil street and rebranded the street’s name back to its civic name which of Florida Street. The honourable government leaders are hoping that by exorcising the devil from this street, it will come back to its Florida name senses. At the moment, we should really not mind the hilarious fact that the state of Florida in the USA has its devils, vices and sins!

The honourable minister of religious affairs, Rev Sumaili, is a Pentecostal and is an ordained minister in Bread of Life Church, which is situated a few blocks from devil street. Pentecostals believe that the character of the thing can be changed by changing its name or the nickname by which the item is called. There is a lot to be said about this particular devil street, though, since this is not a formal name but a nickname that the road developed as a result of its notoriety.

I have in this column tried to highlight Pentecostal theology due to my own experience as a Pentecostal minister but also due to the permeating influence that Pentecostalism has on the current Lungu government. In Pentecostal theology, Pentecostals are more likely to use their voices and power to rename things so that those things could change. There was a craze in Pentecostalism, at one time, to change people’s names, for example. Believing that African names were evil, some Pentecostals gave up their native names for names such as Gilbert and Alberto. Chishala, Chishimba, Bwanga, and Mabvuto were some of the names that Pentecostals rehabilitated. Several famous Pentecostal leaders changed their native names such as the ones that mean a pig or warthog to adopt more important names such as “wealthy respectful person”. One leader simply took the spouses first name which was English and refused to be referred to by the African name of the spouse. A Mabvuto can overnight be christened to Mapalo and by this change; some would believe that a blessing is now born.

The downside of this naming phenomenon among Pentecostals may lead to the situation where Pentecostals believe that they have solved a problem, simply because they have renamed the problem. As such, Pentecostals are less likely to use common sense solutions to deal with the practical reasons as to why there is a devil street than they can stand and “declare” that devil’s street is now Florida Street and it is, therefore “blessed”. Further, regarding the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation, Pentecostals are more likely to support the declaration, than they would support efforts to tangibly help the nation fight corruption and theft. As long as one makes a declaration; Pentecostals don’t usually care about the aftermath. As the nation is battling with Bill 10, Pentecostals are much more concerned about Zambia’s name as a Christian nation than they are about the character that should define such a Christian nation. Names in Pentecostalism mean a lot!

Hon Sumaili is a member of the wealthy and spiritually vibrant Bread of Life Church in Emmasdale. To date, we do not know of any tangible efforts that Zambia’s largest Pentecostal church has done to try and reach out to this red-light street that is in its location.
When Honourable Sumaili showed up at devil street with the mayor, it was clearly a Pentecostal approach to solving problems at play. There she stood with the mayor. They did a little bit of speeches. Announced that devil street is no more; and in typical Pentecostal fashion, blessed the road. They proclaimed the devil street will now be a blessed Florida street.

Going forward, we will be seeing more of such efforts from the ministry of religious affairs. The ministry has a mission to inculcate morals on the nation. This morality, I have now realised, is mostly a Pentecostal worldview and those traditional values that agree with a Pentecostal mindset. One thing the ministry will not do however, going by the theology that informs its minister, is to support substantial efforts to fight corruption, stop theft and end misuse of government resources. For sure, the Lungu government and its leaders are likely to continue pillaging the country’s resources, inflating contracts, and purchasing firetrucks for millions, even as the religious ministry escalates its fight against the devil street and several other things that have to do with the devil.

Later, the honourable minister announced that time has come for the councils in the nation to get rid of devils, and other bad names of things. For sure, councils will have to succumb and rename things. If there is any truth to the power of names; perhaps we can direct it to have his Excellency President Edgar Lungu change his middle name of “Chagwa” which means “it has fallen” or “the thing is falling”. This name, if we are to believe a pentecostal theology of names, could be responsible for the falling of the kwacha, falling of the economy and the falling standards of living among Zambians. But even if Pentecostal theology is heavily influencing the Lungu’s government, it too has limits. It can go to changing devil’s street, but it will not go far enough to confront the Chagwa name. At the end of the day, Pentecostalism as a sect of power truly admires political power and will be averse to confronting the President. Everything in Zambia is Chagwa, after all!

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