Residents of Masaraure Village, 60km outside Harare, are still trying to come to terms with the shocking chain of events that nearly cost 23-year-old Verna Hundu her life, and left her boyfriend, identified only as Leon, dead.
After his attempt to kill Verna hit a brick wall, Leon, who went on to axe three beasts and set ablaze his in-laws’ homestead, decided to take his own life.
Leon first tried to kill himself by drinking rat poison, but alert villagers forestalled the suicide bid by rushing him to the nearby Bosha Clinic in Chikwaka, from which he was transferred to Mavhudzi Hospital, about 5km away.
Having regained his strength after treatment while in hospital, Leon is said to have slipped out and escaped, just as the police were closing in on him.
His body was retrieved from the nearby Mubvinzi Dam by the police sub-aqua team two days later.
But for Crispen Chiguvare, a neighbour, the sight of the blazing homestead and a blood-soaked Verna at midnight will remain lasting images of that horrible night.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my whole life,” Chiguvare said, shaking his head in shock. “If you had seen him (Leon) that night, you wouldn’t have stopped him.”
They had been awakened around 12:15am on Tuesday, November 2, only to watch the kitchen at the Hundu homestead collapsing in the fire as Leon moved around wielding his axe like a madman, in pursuit of Verna.
Villagers said the saga, littered with Shakespearean intrigue, started when Leon, who was already married to another woman, fell in love with Verna and the two went on to have an extra-marital affair, which prompted Leon’s wife to pack her bags and leave.
As his relationship with Verna deepened, Leon is said to have increasingly become disillusioned and, as he confided in his aunt, started plotting Verna’s death and his own suicide.
The aunt, Margaret Bondera, told NewsDay:
“Leon used to tell me that he wanted to die. He said Verna had seduced him and made him leave his wife, so he wanted to kill Verna and then kill himself. He was moving around with rat poison in his pocket.”
Leon fulfilled his chilling promise in a well-calculated plot.
On the fateful day, he was said to have visited his family in Dzvete area, about 16km away from Masaraure Village and upon his return at midnight, allegedly found his new “wife” in a compromising position with a suspected lover.
He beat up the girl and her mother, picked up an axe and killed two beasts in the kraal before setting the homestead ablaze.
A disturbed Bondera was in charge of the two axed cattle.
Neighbours alleged Verna was now pursuing other men as she had exhausted the wellspring of Leon’s wealth, and that courted the jilted man’s ire.
Caroline Nyamadzawo, who lived close to the Hundu homestead, said:
“When he came back, he set the houses on fire and went to the cattle pen where he axed two of the three cattle that were there. When he returned, he woke up his two children (with the first wife), and sent them to his aunt’s house. He then cornered Verna and started assaulting her with bricks until her clothes were soaked in blood. When she managed to escape, I locked her up in the house.”
The two children, Nhamo and Nyaradzo, were aged three and five respectively.
At the height of the disturbances, Verna’s mother went to the village headman’s house to seek his assistance, before going to look for a car to take her blood-soaked daughter to hospital.
Headman Peter Jarson told NewsDay that when he showed up at the scene, he was shocked by the pandemonium, but Leon warned him to stay away lest he be caught up in the crossfire.
Jarson thought it wise to go back to his home without involving himself because Leon had become too dangerous an adversary to antagonise.
Nyamadzawo said Verna’s mother went to report the matter to the police at around 4am, before taking Verna to hospital. Three police officers only turned up at 2pm and summoned Jarson.
“They wanted to know why I had let such things happen,” Jarson said.
“And I explained to them that there was nothing I could have done, because if you had seen Leon at that time, he was no longer a human. He was like something else, a devil.”
The village head took the news crew on a tour of the burnt- out shell of the now deserted homestead. He said they had asked the family to move elsewhere until the dust settled.
The family is reportedly staying with relatives in Harare.
When NewsDay arrived, Verna was said to have just left the homestead.
Jarson said after he had accomplished his mission, Leon took the rat poison but was rushed to hospital, from which he would later escape. His body was later found by a young boy fishing in Mubvinzi Dam.
He said from what they knew of Leon, he was a cattle rustler and a thief who had stolen from people to sustain an expensive lifestyle.
Leon is also alleged to have told fellow beer drinkers that he would kill his girlfriend and then kill himself at their homestead, so that the girl’s family would not have anyone on whom to exact revenge.
Villagers said he sold most of the wealth inherited from his parents, including cattle and ploughshares, to finance his extravagant lifestyle.
The in-laws were dazed by the intoxicating scent of ill-gotten wealth and chose to pay a blind eye to the cultural aberration right under their nose as Leon was able to weave their lives around the dollar orbit.
They embraced Leon as a son-in-law although he had not paid any lobola.
“That was wrong,” Jarson said.
“It was a violation of our cultural practices and customs. If they had done the right thing, we wouldn’t be having this kind of situation. I think Leon’s anger emanated from the fact that he had financed his in-law’s lives.”
It was established that when a report of the incident was made to the police, it emerged that Verna was on the police wanted list after having beaten up another woman whose husband she was allegedly having an affair with.
Efforts to get a comment from the police at Goromonzi were unfruitful.
Villagers in Masaraure are praying that they will be able to put this unprecedented saga behind them and move on with their normal lives, but it remains to be seen whether or not the echoes of this unpleasant incident will not haunt them forever.