CHINHOYI — This small farming town, located about 115km from Harare, is historically known for the majestic Chinhoyi caves as well as the historical Chinhoyi battle, a fierce gunfire exchange between seven guerrillas and the Rhodesian forces, which marked the onset of the Second Chimurenga that would lead to Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.
BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
But not until 2007, when several senior Cabinet ministers were fooled by a self-proclaimed spirit medium, Rotina Mavhunga (Nomatter Tagarira), who convinced the political bigwigs that refined diesel was oozing from a rock.
Last week on Thursday morning, a NewsDay crew revisited the scene of the saga.
Maningwa Mountain looked beautiful and calm from a distance. To passers-by, especially along the Harare-Chirundu highway, the natural feature presents a refreshing look.
Upon arrival at Highlands Farm, where the mountain is located, an eyewitness, Peter Tafira (50), who has been at the farm for 24 years and witnessed the rock-oil saga, led the news crew to the cave that was believed to be housing the diesel that would have miraculously turned around Zimbabwe’s economic fortunes.
Getting to the cave would have been a daunting task, but Tafira was familiar with the easiest route.
The cave still has pipes fixed to it although some of them, which were lined down the mountain to the “filling station” at the foot of the mountain, have long been removed.
The cave is now encroached with lavish green trees and is now a habitat for all manner of small reptiles.
“Every powerful man came to this area except former President Robert Mugabe,” recalled Tafira, a proud witness of what could pass for the greatest debacle in the history of Zimbabwe.
He was there the very first day the diesel n’anga visited the area under police escort.
“She came with her people including the police and went up the mountain. They then told us that there is something special in the mountain and that they wanted to hold their rituals in it. She was a powerful woman. We went up the mountain and a bira was held. At one moment she even removed small drums made up of human skin and spears from the cave,” he recalled.
Tafira, who earnestly bought into the con story, said it was during the rituals that Mavhunga, ostensibly under the influence of ancestral spirits, told the gathering that the ancestors had offered the nation the gift of purified diesel pouring out of a rock.
“A man was then used to fetch the diesel using a gourd and we all saw it with our own eyes. It was real diesel,” he said.
The next moment the mountain was surrounded by people including government officials, who waited to pounce on the “duty-free” diesel for resale. According to Tafira, some people came from as far as Chiredzi to witness the miracle. The people camped at the foot of the mountain.
Clothes hangers, beer and soft drink bottles at the foot of the mountain are now the only relics of the hive of activity that took place at the mountain.
“People built thatched houses at the foot of the mountain while others slept in the open.
A (Zimbabwean) flag was hoisted and the number and type of vehicles parked here was shocking. Commuter omnibus operators also flocked to get the diesel, which they say lasted for weeks in their vehicles. The ministers came and were told to remove their shoes and did just that,” said Tafira.
In retrospect, the fact that senior Cabinet ministers — Sydney Sekeramayi, Kembo Mohadi Nelson Samkange and Didymus Mutasa — bought into that farce became the defining moment of how the government had become so desperate after failure to arrest the economic meltdown that was taking its toll on the country.
Pictures of the then Defence minister Sekeremayi barefoot, seated on the ground and clapping hands in reverence went viral on social media and have now become an enduring reminder of that moment of madness, during which top cops were also said to have made a bee-line to the area.
Mavhunga’s gamble paid off as she received lots of cash, a farm and big house near the Maningwa Mountain as a “thank you” for rescuing the nation that was facing a massive fuel crisis which threatened to cripple industry.
But according to Tafira, trouble began when the bigwigs sought to commercialise the ancestors’ gift to the people.
“Trucks arrived to fetch the diesel and Mavhunga was against that. She told them that the diesel was for the people from the ancestors, hence it was for free. She also ordered Mugabe to visit the area and he was supposed to walk from Chinhoyi Town to the place barefooted as to appease the ancestors,” he recalled.
Mavhunga then became the enemy of the State and fled to South Africa.
She was later apprehended and convicted for defrauding the State.
Mavhunga was accused of purchasing diesel outside the country and hiding it in the rocks, where she then connected a pipe to make it appear like it was oozing from the rock.
Her farm house is now under the ownership of Methodist of Church in Zimbabwe clergyman, Godwell Khosa, who is also a notable farmer in the area.
Asked how he felt when he took over a house once occupied by a spirit medium, Khosa said: “There is no effect to that. I came to live here and only found the house dirty since Rotina had left.”
The beautiful house is at the foot of the mountain and has a swimming pool adjacent to it.
Although the issue was classified as a fraud, to Tafira it seemed genuine, as he was there the first day Mavhunga arrived in the area.
Tafira, who was charmed by Mavhunga’s actions, still believes there is diesel at the heart of the mountain.
“I witnessed everything and I believe that there is diesel around here. Mavhunga was a powerful woman. She would use her staff to perform mysterious acts. At some point she pointed her staff at a tree and it was engulfed in flames,” he said.
“A lot of people gathered here every day and a beast would be slaughtered to feed them. The beasts were donated and relish wasn’t a problem at all.”
To the locals like Tafira, Mavhunga could be right. They believe the spirit of one Sekuru Dombo that is upon her directed her to the fuel tanks at Maningwa Hills, and could perhaps have helped the country had some individuals not harboured commercial intentions.