With nation’s president in attendance, ground broken for Harare Zimbabwe Temple

With the president of Zimbabwe joining the selected number of leaders and invited guests, ground was broken Saturday, Dec. 12, for the Harare Zimbabwe Temple, the first in that nation for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and one of 13 on the African continent.

Elder Edward Dube, a General Authority Seventy and Zimbabwe native who serves as first counselor in the Africa South Area presidency, presided at the groundbreaking. He offered remarks and a dedicatory prayer on the property and construction process.

“The Harare Zimbabwe Temple will be a beautiful and stunning building. Like every temple, it will stand not only as a manifestation of the faith of Latter-day Saints who live close by in this country and the neighboring countries of Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique, but also a manifestation of the faith of Saints all around the world,” said Elder Dube.

“It reflects our testimony and our faith in Heavenly Father’s great plan of happiness. It reflects our testimony and faith in His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. And it reflects our testimony and faith in the Savior’s Atonement and Resurrection.”

He was joined by his wife, Sister Naume Dube; Elder Ciro Schmeil, a General Authority Seventy and second counselor in the Africa South Area Presidency; his wife, Sister Alessandra Schmeil; and several invited guests, including His Excellency Emmerson Mnangagwa, President of the Republic of Zimbabwe.

Similar to other groundbreakings held during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Harare ceremony was a small, invitation-only event adhering to local government social-distancing guidelines.

Latter-day Saint leaders turn the soil together at the groundbreaking of the Zimbabwe Harare Temple on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.
Latter-day Saint leaders turn the soil together at the groundbreaking of the Zimbabwe Harare Temple on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

President Mnangagwa spoke at the groundbreaking service. “I would like to express my profound gratitude to the Church for extending and invitation to me,” he said. 

“It is most opportune that this event comes in this month of December, where the majority of Christians from all walks of life and denominations, commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.”

‘Turn our hearts upward’

In the dedicatory prayer, Elder Dube prayed: “As we watch the rising of this building from the ground up, may we also turn our hearts upward to Thee and Thy Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. …

“We ask that the nation of Zimbabwe and its neighboring nations on this vast continent will be blessed by Thy merciful hand […] Bless their leaders with courage to protect the religious liberties of the citizens and with insight to enlarge opportunities — that these people may be lifted from the bonds of poverty and disease and look forward to more prosperous living. May the teachings of the gospel through missionary work help heal, fortify, and strengthen Zimbabwe and the neighboring nations.”

Attendance at the groundbreaking for the Zimbabwe Harare Temple on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, was limited because of local COVID-19 restrictions.
Attendance at the groundbreaking for the Zimbabwe Harare Temple on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, was limited because of local COVID-19 restrictions. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

The First Presidency announced the scheduled groundbreaking of the Harare Zimbabwe Temple just prior to October 2020 general conference with an exterior rendering and site location also released at the same time. The planned 17,250-square-foot edifice will site on a 6.7-acre site located at 65 Enterprise Road Highlands in Harare.

President Thomas S. Monson announced the Harare Zimbabwe Temple in April 2016 general conference — until this weekend, it had been the longest-waiting announced temple to have a groundbreaking scheduled and conducted. That distinction now falls to another African temple, the Nairobi Kenya Temple, announced at the April 2017 general conference.

The temple will be the first in Zimbabwe, with its 34,330 members in 87 congregations, seven stakes and two missions. There are five dedicated and operating temples in Africa, with the Harare to become the third under-construction temple on the continent, joining the Abidjan Côte d’Ivoire and Praia Cabo Verde temples.

Five more temples have been announced and are in the planning and development stages.

Great distances for temple worship

Latter-day Saints in Harare, Zimbabwe, gather for a devotional with President Russell M. Nelson on April 17, 2018.
Latter-day Saints in Harare, Zimbabwe, gather for a devotional with President Russell M. Nelson on April 17, 2018. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Latter-day Saints in Zimbabwe are looking forward to having a temple in close proximity, since they now travel some 14 hours by car to the Johannesburg South Africa Temple.

Elder Dube related a personal experience to those gathered about himself and Sister Dube traveling on a “smoky, noisy, old bus” in 1996 between Harare and Johannesburg with 20 other couples. They were traveling to the Johannesburg South Africa Temple — the only temple on the African continent at the time — to participate in sacred ceremonies there.

At the time, the trip each direction was 16 to 20 hours, depending on the border immigration officials. “Each August for the next three years,” Elder Dube recalled, “at least 20 new couples, who had not yet been to the temple, joined us for our annual temple trip.

“Little did we know then the change that was taking place within us. With each temple trip, we felt some transformation and new feelings — always penetrating and insightful. We developed desires to do good, we were convinced to lay aside incorrect traditions, and we were brought to a knowledge of the Lord through temple worship.”

President Nelson’s 2018 visit

During the April 17, 2018, devotional in Harare, Zimbabwe, President Russell M. Nelson invites a girl from the choir to help the Primary children sing “I Am a Child of God.”
During the April 17, 2018, devotional in Harare, Zimbabwe, President Russell M. Nelson invites a girl from the choir to help the Primary children sing “I Am a Child of God.” Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

President Russell M. Nelson, in his inaugural world ministry in April 2018, visited Harare and conducted a devotional meeting with Latter-day Saints there. Joined by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Nelson also visited a prospective temple site during his stop.

“You deserve a temple here in Harare because that’s where we get the highest of all the blessings that God can give to His faithful children,” President Nelson said. “I want to be here to see that happen.”

Later in November 2018, Elder Neil L. Andersen visited Zimbabwe and South Africa, with the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles meeting with local Church leaders and members as well as with Zimbabwe Vice President K. Mohadi.

Elder Andersen reminded the Latter-day Saints in Zimbabwe of the promises President Nelson left with them: “I bless you that you may be good examples among your neighbors, friends, family and co-workers, that they’ll want to be more like you and learn what makes you so different from the others around you. I bless your homes that they will be places of love, where peace and harmony may prevail, that your marriages will be strong.”

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, right, and Sister Kathy Andersen, center, gather with children after a member meeting in Zimbabwe on Nov. 18. 2018.
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, right, and Sister Kathy Andersen, center, gather with children after a member meeting in Zimbabwe on Nov. 18. 2018.

The Church’s history in Zimbabwe

The Church has a rich history in the landlocked south African country known for its dramatic landscapes and extensive wildlife.

As early as 1925, the Church had members in Southern Rhodesia — the name of the nation of Zimbabwe prior to 1980. Peter and Elizabeth DuPlooy, who lived 62 miles outside of what is now the city of Harare, were baptized on March 10, 1925, while on a visit to South Africa.

Five years later, the Church sent missionaries to the new Rhodesia District, and they worked in the area for five years due to the city’s distance from mission headquarters.

Members continued contact through letters written to the South African Mission headquarters that ran news in the mission publication The Southern Cumorah Cross.

In 1950, missionaries returned to Rhodesia. On Feb. 1, 1951, the first convert, Hugh Hodgkiss, was baptized; the Salisbury (now called Harare) Branch was organized in September 1951.

Meetinghouses were built and dedicated in Rhodesia in the late 1960s. Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated the Salisbury Branch meetinghouse on Sept. 17, 1967. Elder Marion G. Romney of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated the Bulawayo Branch meetinghouse on Sept. 3, 1968.

On April 18, 1980, Britain recognized Rhodesia’s independence, and the country’s name was officially changed to Zimbabwe. On July 1, 1987, the Zimbabwe Harare Mission was organized, created in a division of the South Africa Johannesburg Mission. In 1988, selections from the Book of Mormon were translated in Shona.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, on a five-country tour of Africa, visited Zimbabwe on Feb. 18, 1998, and spoke to about 1,500 Latter-day Saints.

On Dec. 12, 1999, the Harare Zimbabwe Stake was organized by Elder Dennis E. Simmons of the Seventy. And two decades and six additional stakes later, ground has been broken in the capital city for a house of the Lord.