Witches Eating the Dead (Zimbabwe)

The Herald, 25 July 2011, Chemist Mafuba

The fuming parents told their chief how they had found that the new grave of their child had been desecrated.

“What do you want me to do?” asked the chief. “It is a crime to say that somebody is a witch. That makes it difficult for me to call those women and ask them whether they are witches.”

“We know that it is a crime to point a figure at another person,” said the parents. “It might not be a crime to ask them what they were doing when they were seen at the graveyard at night. We are only suggesting.”

The chief had the women in question brought before him.

“You know that we buried the child of these parents the other day,” he said. “A day later you were seen at the graveyard at night. The other reports that I have received are that you were naked when you were seen. What were you doing there?”

One of the women answered the chief. “Yes,” said Ruva. “We were seen at the graveyard at night. We were naked when we were seen. We had gone there to eat the child of this man and his wife.” The chief didn’t have the power to hear that case. He sent the women to the Magistrate’s Court in Masvingo.

The prosecutor charged them with breaking the Witchcraft Suppression Act. The woman who told spoke before the chief pleaded guilty.

“I want to get this clear from you,” said the magistrate. “Do you mean to tell this court that you eat people?”

“Yes,” said Ruva. “I and my friends eat people. Tell this court how you do it.

“I was coming to that,” said the young wife. “It is our job to eat people when they die. There was a time when people were not dying in our area.

“When that happened, we ate our children. We took turns killing them. All the others killed their children and we ate them. Trouble started when the turn came to kill my child. We failed to do so. At the same time, the child of these parents died.

“During the night of the second day we met together at the grave of their child. We had come to eat it.Tell this court how you opened grave,” said the magistrate.

“I was coming to that,” said Ruva. “We have sticks that we use when want to open a grave. We stand in circle with that gave in the middle.

“One of us opens the grave by striking it with a stick. He goes into the grave and cuts up the meat with a knife. He throws the pieces to us, one by one, and we eat it.”

“Tell this court what happened for you to come to this court.”

“I was coming to that,” said the wife. “On this occasion, the person who was giving us meat refused to give me my share. He said that I had eaten their children, but they had not eaten mine.

“This didn’t go down well with me. It was not my fault that we had failed to kill my child. The ancestral spirits of that child refused us to eat him.

“There was a lot of talk about it. The others punished me by leaving me behind when they had finished eating the child.

“Somebody who was going where he was going very early in the morning found me sleeping on top the grave. I was unconscious. He called the people of the village to come and see what he had seen.

“The people took me to my husband. Munashe must have known what I had done. The people asked me to explain what I was doing where I found. I was afraid that my husband could reject me. My two children would remain without mother.

“I wanted to save my marriage. That was how this case went to the chief. From there we came here to court.”

“I find you guilty as charged,” said the marriage. “Do you have anything to say in mitigation. It is not my wish to eat people,” said Ruva. “I got it from my grandmother. When she died, she gave her the power to open graves and eat people.

“I told mother that I wanted to vomit what I had eaten. Mother asked aunt how we can go about it. Aunt said that I would die if I tried to do that. It was not heard of that a person could refuse her inheritance.

“I was told that it was an honour to be the spirit medium of my grandmother. It is true. All my uncles call me mother because their mother is sitting on me.

“They don’t want to hear that there is a person who bothers me. That person would have bothered their mother. My uncles told my husband that he was marrying their mother.

“There is nobody who can marry me if one hears that my husband divorced me because I don’t wear blankets out. My friends are refusing to accept what they know. “They came to our house the night I ran a leg (eloped) and went to stay with my husband. My friends told me that they were shown that I was coming to join them and that they had to accept me as one of them. Straightaway we went out together that same night.

“Nothing has changed since then. I don’t know why they deny the things that we do together. I would not be having problems if my child had died.

“We would have eaten my child. They would have given me the meat from the child of these parents.”

“You are sentenced to seven months imprisonment with hard labour,” said the magistrate. “The whole sentenced is suspended on condition that you receive treatment.

“If you come back to court for the same offence, you will serve the sentence I have put aside. That will be on top of the sentence that I will give you for the new offence.”

“The husband of Ruva went to the offices of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association. Herbert Ushewokunze had formed that association when he was Minister of Health at Independence.

All traditional healers have to register with it so that the arm of the ministry can monitor the way they treat patients. They are proud to own the badge and the certificate that the association issues to paid-up members.

Each n’anga mentions areas of specialisation so that the office can refer patients needing their services to them. The official who received the young husband at the association observed:

“I know your name from The Herald. They’ve been giving wide coverage to the trial of your wife. You come from Zaka, don’t you?”

“Ha ha!” Munashe laughed. “The world is a small place. I didn’t know that I’d meet somebody who knows m . . . Eh, I want somebody who can cure my wife of the disease of walking at night.”

The official moistened his thumb and his forefinger with the tip of tongue and thumb through the register rapidly.

He gave him the name and address of the traditional healer that would help them. The couple took the bus from Mbare and watched telephone poles turning round and round on the same spot. The trees were racing in the opposite direction. Smiling children were waving at their little hands, which looked like butterflies, from the side of the highway.

The bus left the highway to the Great Zimbabwe when they reached Masvingo and went to Mapanzure past Bondolfi Mission. The n’anga was at home.

The maid gave the visitors hard porridge from finger-millet, “dead” milk without whey, nyovi vegetables from an abandoned kraal and biltong that had been cooked in peanut butter.

They scrapped the film that the morsels left on the palms of their hands with their teeth.

The water with which they washed down the delicious meal came from the small gourd which had a crooked arm. The visitors had their fill and went into the surgery. Mbuya Chijaka had put on her gowns of leopard skins. Her tapering crown of ostrich feathers was sitting in her head. There was a mirror in a big round gourd which saw everything.

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