The debilitating heartbreak of losing a child can become a lifetime affliction.
The nation has been gripped by the saga of one such child, Given Flint Matapure, who disappeared at the Exhibition Park during the annual Harare Agricultural Show on August 22 this year.
The three-year-old child’s loss has given his mother, Vengesayi Dick Matapure, sleepless nights.
“What happened to our family is tragic and I do not wish for it to happen to anyone because it is the most intolerable cruelty that can befall anyone,” Vengesayi has said.
“At first, we thought that God had abandoned us. However, we are beginning to realise that in Him there is hope in our seemingly hopeless situation.”
Hope is all that the Matapure family has been holding onto, the only elixir in these trying times. The loss of Given, and several other children who seem to have inexplicably vanished into thin air, has raised fears they could have been killed in ritual murders.
According to Chipo Chikata, a counsellor with the Just Children Foundation (JCF), children are usually kidnapped by devious believers of the occult who use human body parts in their activities.
Chikata says when a child “disappears”, the sense of loss is more devastating because the parents suffer sleepless nights and anxious moments until they know the fate of their child¸ unlike when dealing with death, which is final and conclusive.
“Missing a child is harder to deal with because, unlike death, they won’t be any closure. A family will be hoping to be re-united with their child and that can take many years. Closure is needed when dealing with any kind of lose,” she says.
One family the JCF had assisted in Chikomba had a grandmother whose daughter passed away and son disappeared many years ago when he was in Grade 7.
He just left home one day and never came back
“While the woman was hurt by her daughter’s death, you could tell that the pain she felt when she spoke about her lost son was greater. You can’t deal with something like this because you don’t know whether or not the child is still alive,” she says.
Child theft is often more intricate than people think, with kidnappers perfecting their modus operandi to ensure that they cover their tracks well. Kidnappers, she said, are rarely strangers.
There is strong belief human body parts can be used to enhance one’s business fortunes.
Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers’ Association (Zinatha) president Gordon Chavunduka, however, says it is unfortunate people believe success and riches in life can be purchased with blood. As the country slowly extricates itself from the economic debris of the past decade, people are seeking a quick fix for their economic ailments.
“People have been suffering and now they want to get rich as quickly as possible,” Chavunduka, “As Zinatha, we don’t condone such behaviour and don’t believe that such practices really improve anyone’s life.”
Chavunduka says such practices were prevalent in the pre-colonial era and were based on people’s beliefs. Late last year, the police recorded an increase in the number of ritual murders, and cited Masvingo and Manicaland as the hotspots.
The murders were said to be carried out primarily for witchcraft purposes by people who believe human blood and body parts can enhance business fortunes and boost crop production.
Police spokesperson Andrew Phiri says parents and guardians have a duty under the Children’s Protection and Adoption Act to ensure their children’s safety.
He says while notable cases have been recorded in the last three to four months, it was not an indication that the cases were on the ascent.
“We want to warn all those with the responsibility of looking after children that they have a duty to play and they must do it well. If the cases continue, you will see us begin to prosecute those who would have neglected that duty, be it parents, guardians or teachers at school,” he said.
According to Chikata, the kidnappers often strike a chord with the child to make their hatchet job smooth, efficient and thorough.
“I think in most cases when children are kidnapped, it is done by people who would have studied their movements, for instance, how he goes to school and come out, how and where the child plays, to familiarise themselves with child’s movements,” she says.
Parents, she notes, can also establish ways of tightening security around their children including travelling in groups and turning down gifts from strangers.
Should the remains that were recently discovered at the showgrounds turn out to be Given’s, then it may finally bring closure and help the parents with the loss of their child.