WE have read and heard of weird stories happening around sacred places, but most of them were too good to be anything but African folklore. We often dismiss the stories as legendary and superstitious tales of a particular ethnic group, because they will be too good to be true.
BY GARIKAI MAFIRAKUREVA
Although the stories might seem strangely unconventional in style or sound like cheap beer talk, I feel there is one such story worth sharing now that we are preparing for a harmonised general election in 2018. Yes, election. Most African elections are characterised by violence, and the story I am going to share with readers happened around the highly publicised 2001 Bikita West by-election violence.
After the formation of MDC, Bikita West was the first rural seat out of 57 to be won by an opposition party after the 2000 general election. Unfortunately, three months down the line, Amos Mutongi, who had won the seat on an MDC ticket died of cardiac arrest and a date for a by-election was subsequently announced.
During the December 2000 Zanu PF conference, President Robert Mugabe, told his party supporters to bring back Bikita West constituency, that probably set the tone for the election because the by-election was to be won at all cost.
Soon after the festive holidays all roads led to Bikita West. The late Moven Mahachi then Defence minister, the late Border Gezi then Gender, Youth and Employment Creation minister and the late Chenjerai Hunzvi, then chairperson of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association (ZNLWVA), descended on Bikita with one objective of bringing back Bikita West, which later turned out to be a Faustian bargain. They went to campaign for retired Colonel Claudius Makova.
Not to be outdone the youthful MDC that included former St Mary’s legislator, Job Sikhala, former Finance minister, Tendai Biti, Hatfield MP Tapiwa Mashakada, the late ex-Kuwadzana MP Learnmore Juda Jongwe, just to mention a few, moved in to beef up support for Bonnie Pakai who was standing as MDC candidate. That sparked running battles which exploded into one of the fiercest election-related violence ever recorded in the country.
A Mercedes Benz car belonging to MDC was petrol-bombed at Nyika growth point, and party activists reacted by destroying Zanu PF District Co-ordinating Centre (DCC) offices at Bikita centre. The violence escalated to alarming levels until unarmed MDC retreated to nearby mountains, only coming out to launch sporadic counter attacks.
Before the delimitation exercise Ward 15 was still part of Bikita West constituency, with thick dense sacred forests around Hanyanya Mountain, which eventually became a hideout for MDC members. The area is known as the hub of the light green ant-like creatures better known as stink bugs or harurwa, a traditional delicacy for the people in Bikita.
In fact, in Bikita, stink bugs/harurwa have a covert meaning to the society, and is part of the customs of the people, because there are a series of traditional ceremonies that are held before people are allowed into the forests to pick them up.
The folklore that has been recited for decades is that, the sacred area used to be under the jurisdiction of Headman Nerumedzo under Chief Mazungunye area, who had four eyes — two in front and two at the back of the head and that earned him the name Mesomana.
The forest covers an area surface of approximately 12km² and Jiri which is the focal point of harurwa is surrounded by areas such as Guvaravasikana, Matariwana, Pamasarasara, Chitaka, Rushuro, Mukozvo, Pastishi, Nechimva, Pafuve and Pamusasa.
According to Headman Nerumedzo, the area possesses the highest title to obedience, honour, reverence, and veneration that certain rituals were carried out to mark the beginning of the harurwa season. Traditional beer (doro reharurwa) is then prepared usually around April.
Only four village heads are allowed to enter the sacred forest and after a while one would return to break the news that it’s now time to pick stink bugs.
Joseph Hore, one of the village head’s aides went on to explain that the headman himself is not allowed by tradition to set foot in the sacred forest neither is he allowed to look up the sky when swarms of stink bugs appear.
“If the headman disobeys the custom, stink bugs will not get into the sacred forest as if in protest. His subjects are the ones who bring the stink bugs to his home. Stink bugs are also believed to have medicinal properties and such is their reputation that people are said to come from as far as South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique just to buy them. Long ago people would pay bride price using stink bugs,” Hore said.
That is how sacred the forest is. So whoever enters it should first of all be granted permission by the elders responsible for the area. According to Heya Shoko, former MDC-T legislator for Bikita West, after pleas with elders in the area, Hanyanya Mountain was a case of any pot in the storm as there was no other place to hide when violence intensified.
However, Zanu PF got wind of their hideout and three groups led by Hunzvi, Mahachi and Gezi invaded the forest in search of MDC supporters turning a deaf ear on elders who had warned them of the dangers associated with roaming the sacred forest before any rituals were done.
Finally, the election was held in January 2001 and Zanu PF claimed back the seat as per Mugabe’s order. Everyone returned to their respective areas — forgot about life in Bikita, and everything was back to normal.
But according to Hore, the spirit mediums and the people around the area were not amused. They had to brew beer to appease the spirits.
“Because the gods were angry that year, there was no stink bugs. After brewing the beer in April, some strange things happened. We don’t know if it was sheer coincidence or if it was just natural. What shocked most of us is that the strange things involved people who balled up and defiled our area.
“We heard that on April 28, 2001 Border Gezi was killed when his car burst a tyre, veered off the road and rammed into a tree near Mvuma along the Harare-Masvingo Road. Gezi was travelling to Masvingo to address party supporters and reshuffle the political leadership in the province,” Hore said.
He added: “Barely a month later, we got news that Moven Mahachi who was Defence minister at the time was involved in a fatal car accident on May 26, 2001 along the Mutare-Nyanga Road after attending a Zanu PF Manicaland meeting as national political commissar. A week later Chenjerai Hunzvi succumbed to an undisclosed ailment at Parirenyatwa Hospital and died on June 4 ,2001.”
No one is dancing on anyone’s grave, but the question remains — was this coincidence that the men who were being accused of defiling the scared shrines died one after the other within a short space of time?