Villagers in Masvingo Province’s Bikita district heaved a sigh of relief when two witch-hunters, known as tsikamutandas, were dragged to the courts recently.
The witch-hunters had been terrorising the area east of Masvingo town since late last year, taking away cattle worth thousands of dollars, allegedly as payment for “exorcising” goblins and other voodoo items.
They had camped in Bikita for close to a month, traversing the length and breadth of the district, “flushing out” goblins and snakes while taking away cattle, goats, sheep, hens and cash as payment.
While most villagers were afraid to challenge them as the witch-hunters were allegedly acting in cahoots with village heads, it took one villager — a primary school teacher — who had the courage to report their activities to the police and drag them to court, demanding his heifer and pig back.
Shepherd Fana (33), of Nerugoti village under Chief Mazungunye who is a teacher at Gunura Primary school in Buhera, felt cheated and on January 1 dragged the two witch-hunters — Edmund Mudimu (41) and Agrippa Makava (21) —to the Bikita Magistrates court for alleged extortion.
Prosecutor Samuel Magobeya alleges that on December 13 2015, Mudimu, from Mubatapasango village under Chief Kazangarare, Hurungwe and Makava, of Chigumula village under Chief Dendera in Hurungwe, approached the complainant at his homestead and told him that there were goblins buried at the homestead by his forefathers.
They asked if he was willing to receive assistance to remove the goblins and he agreed.
After allegedly removing the said goblins, Mudimu demanded a heifer and a pig as payment.
When Fana complained about their hefty demands, the State alleges that the two witch-hunters threatened to strike him with lightning if he failed to make the payment.
According to court papers, Fana submitted, fearing he would struck by lightning.
The total value of the cow and pig was $520 and nothing was recovered.
However, Bikita magistrate Caroline Tafara acquitted the two witch hunters at the close of the State case last week after Fana gave conflicting statements in court.
In his statement to the police, Fana said he was the one who had received the services, but in court he said it was his father who had allegedly been exorcised.
Through their lawyer Collin Maboke, Mudimu and Makawa said they had entered into a written agreement with Fana for the services and he consented to paying the cow and pig.
The witch-hunters had left a trail of destruction in their wake as brother turned against brother, mother against daughter and father against son in Masvingo.
They left families ruined as all of a sudden, the magic of these tsikamutandas had “uncovered” witchcraft that has allegedly led to fathers “eating” their own grandchildren and mothers keeping pythons, goblins and other creatures that emit smoke upon being struck with the witch-hunters’ spear.
Hundreds of people in Makomo, Musukura, Chikwadze, Goredema, Chinoera and Ngundu villages have lost countless livestock ranging from cattle, goats and poultry to the witch-hunters against their wish, they said.
After publication of their activities by The Standard last year, Chief Marozva stopped them mid-way in their cleansing activities after he summoned them to his homestead and gave them their marching orders.
However, the damage had already been done.
Despite the witch-hunters, acquittal in the case involving Fana, villagers said the case would send a strong message to would-be witch- hunters intending to target their area.
“Even if they were acquitted, at least they have left our area and will not return again. This is also a warning to our village heads who forced us into these activities,” said a woman who claims she lost a goat, but refused to be named or captured on camera fearing reprisals.
“We were just being summoned to village heads’ homesteads and told they would be conducting witch-hunts and even if you did not believe or like them, you would submit for fear of being chucked out of the area.”
A local councillor, Lawrence Vova, said many people had approached him complaining about the activities of the witch-hunters.
He was pleased that they were chucked out and dragged to court, even though the verdict was not in the complainant’s favour.
“Many people lodged complaints with me about the actions of these so-called witch-hunters, saying they were ripping them off, mainly targeting well-to-do families who had healthy livestock,” he said.
“I applaud the courageous villager who took them to court and even if he lost the case, this has made villagers realise that they were suffering in silence.”
He said the area was faced with hunger and the witch-hunters were worsening the situation by taking the few surviving livestock from villagers after a devastating drought.
“These witch-hunters left permanent scars in the community that will be difficult to heal,” he said.
One victim, Shereni Rwatirera (65), from Musukura village, who also lost one beast after being accused of keeping a goblin, said the court precedence was an eye- opener.
“I never invited the tsikamutandas here, but my “sons” from the extended family approached me and said we should consult the witch-hunters.
“The witch-hunters then came alone at my place a day later saying I had a goblin,” he said.
“They searched and brought out something which I do not even know, and said it was a goblin.
“For that, they demanded a beast. I had no option but to give them, but what I know is that when my son comes back from South Africa, there will be trouble. He will demand that cow back,” he said.
Rwatirera said he will wait for his son’s return to discuss if they will also approach the courts.
This could open floodgates of police reports as the few villagers who want to stand up against their village heads may also approach the courts.
Witch-hunting is unlawful in Zimbabwe and labelling another person a witch is a crime.