Gogo Dhliwayo of Halale Village in Matopo wept piteously as a witch hunter, popularly known as Siziba, ransacked her thatched hut purportedly looking for goblins, which he said were stashed somewhere in her hut.
The day of cleansing was marked by a lucid sky, with the sun dispensing its slight golden rays on villagers’ backs as they vacated their homesteads and streamed to gather at Gogo Dhliwayo’s homestead.
All eyes were glued on Siziba and two other witch hunters as they came out of Dhliwayo’s hut with a clay pot smeared with fresh blood and a sack which they claimed had goblins inside.
Siziba and his colleagues locked fiery eyes with the suspected witch. They seized Dhliwayo’s swelling arms and dragged her, at the same time ordering her to confess that she was a witch. One witch hunter was armed with a knife; the other held a razor blade.
Before she could evaluate her strengths, estimate the probabilities and ponder her alternatives of escape she tumbled to the ground with a thud. They tossed her body about and she rolled on the ground. They held her arms, squeezed her into the ground and forcibly slit her forehead with the razor blade. Panting heavily, her head tilted sideways, her face rumpled in soreness and surrender; blood oozed from her forehead and stained her yellow blouse. Some spectators ululated in applause. They celebrated the incision on the woman’s forehead. A wound signifying that she was a witch.
The crowd traversed from where it stood and moved closer to the old woman who heavily sucked in air, while dribbles of sweat rolled down her cheeks. She summoned her guts and vehemently denied the accusations.
“I am a devout Christian. I do not possess such kinds of things, please leave me alone,” Dhliwayo said, her voice packed with a tone of insubordination; her fists clasping and unclasping. Her pleas fell on deaf ears.
Instead, an elderly man, who was part of the crowd shouted: “Old woman shut up, if you were clean Siziba would have proved it.”
Before anyone could comprehend what was taking place the witch hunters returned to Dhliwayo’s hut. After a few minutes they ducked under the door chasing a brown snake about 10 cm long. The snake slithered wrestling for its life as they picked it and stashed it into the sack.
“These goblins and snakes all belong to Dhliwayo. She is responsible for all the calamities that have befallen her family and the death of fellow villagers. If I am to destroy them I need a cow to do so. If you do not want me to kill them, they will kill you because they are angry for being paraded in the public,” Siziba said, while pointing his red cloth wrapped sword at the objects.
After failing to withstand the pressure and verbal insults from her relatives and other villagers, Dhliwayo was left with no option, but to part with one of her three cows.
This is not about the predicament of Dhliwayo only, but a number of villagers have fallen victim to the demands of witch hunters, popularly known as tsikamutandas, who have wreaked havoc in most of Zimbabwe’s rural areas, where they claim to cleanse homesteads and villages from evil.
After the cleansing ceremonies the tsikamutanda demands hefty tokens of appreciation that include cattle, money or goats before threatening those who fail to meet their demands with death. Due to fear, victims often comply and this has left a number of villagers poorer after losing their livestock to the witch hunters.
Sigola Village Head, Mehluli Ndlovu said there was a need to regulate the practice of healing and said the ever increasing number of tsikamutandas was fuelled by the current harsh economic conditions.
“Tsikamutandas are ever increasing because they know that they get benefits such as livestock and cash in the event that they expose a ‘witch’ or ‘wizard’. In most cases, it has turned out that the witch hunters are fake and falsely claim to possess powers to trick people.
“Despite the psychological effects that are left imprinted on the victims’ minds, it has turned out that some tsikamutandas do physically abuse their accused targets through flogging them among other ways of forcing them to accept that they are witches,” said Ndlovu.
In an effort to ban tsikamutandas Ndlovu and other village heads no longer allow tsikamundas in their villages so that ordinary people are not manipulated into parting with their livestock and money.
A few months ago, Chief Marova from Bikita, after realising that people were being divided and robbed in broad daylight by witch hunters, banned them from his area.
This was after they left families ruined as all of a sudden, the magic of these tsikamutandas had “uncovered” witchcraft that had allegedly led to grandfathers “eating” their own grandchildren and women keeping pythons, goblins and other creatures that emit smoke upon being struck with the witch-hunters’ spear.
These efforts have yielded positive results, as villagers now engage their traditional leaders when the tsikamutandas arrive and then drive them out of the area.
However, in some cases, some traditional leaders have reportedly been at the forefront of inviting witch hunters on the pretext of cleansing the land. It has turned out that these traditional leaders are conniving with the witch hunters, who in turn share the loot with them in the form of livestock or money.