In court Regina Sveto, 21 on Friday “hissed like a snake” and “went into a trance” as Sekuru Nelson Jambaya, the vice president of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA) testified leaving a packed court room shocked.
All the drama took place at Court 18 at the Harare Magistrates Court where it was jammed to the rafters as court officials, magistrates and lawyers all raced there to watch proceedings in the rather unusual case.
Sveto has pleaded guilty to a charge of public indecency after she was found naked outside her brother-in-law’s house in Highfield suburb just after 6AM on last Sunday.
Sveto was seen by passers-by outside the house wearing “red headgear” and “some black strings around the waist”. She claimed she had “flown” from there from Murehwa, some 120km east of Harare, with her father-in-law and an aunt.
Their winnowing basket aircraft taxied off from a graveyard in Zihute Village under Chief Mangwende — their mission to kill her brother-in-law. Once at the house in Highfield, she claims she balked when asked to kill her brother-in-law. Her father-in-law, named in court as Elias Zemba, and the aunt, Filda Zemba, then took off and abandoned her.
Just in case she flies back
Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe has asked for expert opinion before passing sentence. After listening to Jambaya’s evidence on Thursday, Guvamombe ordered Chief Mangwende to be summoned to give his opinion on June 4. The magistrate has also ordered that the woman be kept in custody, “just in case she flies back to Murehwa”.
Jambaya said the woman’s account confirmed what traditional healers have always believed about witches and wizards. He told the court: “According to my knowledge, if the woman said she flew from Murehwa in a basket, then she is a witch. Witches do a lot of this and they are known to travel naked at night.
“It is also possible for witches to travel as far as South Africa during the night for the purposes of witchcraft, flying back as soon as their mission is accomplished. Some people use magic to protect their homes and families against witchcraft and in such cases, the witches and wizards become powerless and are subsequently exposed.”
As Jambaya testified, Sveto “hissed like a snake”, triggering some panic at the court room. At one point, she was seen to suddenly become weak, leaning heavily against a prison guard.
Then, in a sudden burst, she shouted in her native Shona: “You are liars! You are only senior in terms of your jobs but you are powerless against me. Why are you leaving criminals to roam free out there and harassing an innocent person like me? I have no case to answer, didn’t my medium brief you?”
Sveto immediately collapsed and lay prostrate on the floor for several minutes before a relative revived her by placing salt into her palms. She regained consciousness some 10 minutes later, by which time the court was overflowing with curious on-lookers.
Prosecutors have asked the magistrate not to impose a custodial sentence on Sveto. Prosecutor Austin Muzivi said the woman was likely to be a state witness should Elias Zemba and Filda Zemba be charged with practising witchcraft, which is a crime in Zimbabwe.
A 2006 law says anyone accusing another individual of witchcraft must show proof of their allegations.
The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act 2004 says court officials can rely on expert evidence “as to whether the practice that forms the subject of a charge… is a practice that is commonly associated with witchcraft.”