HomeLocal NewsRisking lives for nonexistent red mercury

Risking lives for nonexistent red mercury

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SO, after more than a week of speculation and all sorts of theories over the cause of the “mysterious” blast that rocked Chitungwiza’s Zengeza 2 high-density suburb, police have finally revealed the source of the explosion — that it was “an explosive” — a bomb, a landmine or some such explosive.

Report by Tangai Chipangura Deputy Editor

The police issued an official statement on Tuesday to the effect that people could be going around stealing and selling bombs! The belief, said national police spokesperson Charity Charamba, was that inside these bombs was some substance called red mercury which fetched millions of dollars on the black market.

As the “red mercury” story filtered Zimbabwe’s underworld, “enterprising” and unscrupulous fortune-seekers have been on the prowl, buying and selling explosives — even attempting to extract the “red mercury”, ending up dead or injured in the process.

Police say it is fortune-seeking adventures such as these that were most likely the cause of the death of five people at a n’anga’s house in Zengeza last week.

An explosion ripped through at least three houses tearing to pieces and burning beyond recognition the 24-year-old traditional healer Speakmore Mandere, businessman Clever Kamudzeya (an ex-police officer), a seven-month-old baby who had been left sleeping by its mother in a separate room and another man whom police have not yet officially identified.

NewsDay, however, has it on good authority that the “unidentified” fifth victim was a barman at a renowned upmarket hotel in Harare by the name of Stix Chitanha. Our sources said Chitanha, who had been missing from his St Mary’s home for six days, was identified by his wife and brother last Sunday and his remains were buried at his rural home in Hurungwe on Monday.

Before the police gave their official position on the cause of the blast, all sorts of superstitious theories flew around, most of them bordering on absurdity, unkind humour, some of them even outright silly. They included stories that black magic lightning was being manufactured when something terribly went wrong resulting in the lightning striking its source.

Other explanations were that the businessman was trying to get rid of a wealth-making goblin that had become a pest.
Others claimed that a money-making concoction was being prepared in a clay pot and the businessman was straddling the cauldron containing red-hot stones when the muti suddenly became too powerful and exploded.

This version was meant to explain how the businessman was torn apart at the waist area and also how the clay pot miraculously survived the blast.

The rational explanation of a possible bomb blast was unpopular with people who readily embraced the mysterious witchcraft-related causes — including the famous sandawana theory where a rat-like rodent was supposed to have caused the explosion of the magnitude that destroyed up to 12 houses.

The reality, however, according to police investigations, is that there are people going around selling bombs in search of instant riches. Some of the theories in this school of thought are that there are soldiers and or policemen that are stealing explosives, including landmines, grenades, mortar bombs etc from military armouries and reselling them to red mercury merchants.

What this means is that such kinds of explosives may now be found in residential areas awaiting extraction of the red mercury or onward transmission to buyers. Some of these bombs may be so unstable they could detonate anytime and yet they are probably being transported on populated streets and vehicles, even in our kombis where a dealer could be sitting like an innocent passenger, yet they are carrying a bag containing a landmine on their lap!

But for all this, research shows that the so-called red mercury may not actually exist and could be a mere urban myth. The cherry-coloured substance believed to be found inside explosives may be valueless although those that seek to trade in it put a price on it of up to $1,8 million per kg.

A British court trying three men accused of trying to extract red mercury for sale in 2006 cleared them after the court failed to establish whether or not the so-called red mercury actually existed.

According to BBC reports on the case, the most bizarre aspect of the trial of Abdurahman Kanyare and his two co-defendants was the fact that no-one in the court could be certain whether the terrifying substance on which the entire prosecution case was based actually existed.

The prosecutor, Mark Ellison, admitted the police had no idea if there even was such a thing as red mercury — supposedly the main ingredient for a “dirty bomb” which could have devastated London.

It emerged during the trial at the Old Bailey that red mercury was something of an urban myth, a substance which was either radioactive or toxic or neither, depending on who you spoke to.

According to the reputable Guardian newspaper, however, red mercury is nothing but a mythical name of a nonexistent substance used by conmen to dupe people.

“The only thing we can be sure of is that it’s a ripping yarn,” a report in the paper’s 2004 article said.

The American Central Intelligence Agency also says red mercury does not exist. Recently, the red mercury mania reappeared in Saudi Arabia, an article for the BBC says, adding: “Saudi police say they are investigating a hoax that has seen people rushing to buy old-fashioned Singer sewing machines for up to $50 000, when their original price was not more than $100.

Zimbabweans appear to be a gullible lot that has taken as true rumours that items such as old cast iron pots and pressing irons made thousands of dollars on the black market.

There was a rush for these items between 2009 and 2010 when urban dwellers swarmed the rural areas collecting old pots and pressing irons for amounts that left the rural folk dumbfounded, but at the end of the day having the last laugh.

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