By Chris Mataruka and Takudzwa Mazwienduna
Superstition is sometimes considered a harmless phenomenon, which is why we seldom find citizens or legislators mounting serious opposition to unsubstantiated opinions deeply held by various people. Most of this superstition is inspired by irrational fear; the fear of the unknown, which often makes paranoia a trait found amongst superstitious people. Gaps in knowledge make room for uninformed consensuses about different subjects. In most of the Manicaland province in Zimbabwe, particularly the Mutare district, people believe in witchcraft even though no empirical evidence was ever uncovered on the matter. Believing in witches is a private belief and could be harmless if it was left that way… but the problem comes when one puts names to the witches, which is an inevitable eventuality. Naming real people feeds the ‘reality’ of the Witchcraft concept.
A cult of witch hunters known as the ‘Tsikamutanda’ has emerged and profits from this widely held superstition. They show up at people’s homesteads and accuse them of witchcraft, then demand huge payments (usually in the form of livestock) to cleanse the evil spirits, much like religious ideologies that construct a non-existent problem and sell people ‘salvation’ from it. The International Institute for Development Facilitation had the opportunity to sit with Headman Nemasase whose village is one of the most affected, and he gave us insight into the phenomenon.
Takudzwa Mazwienduna: How are you Changamire? I heard you have a witch hunting problem in your area…
Headman Nemasase: Of course we do, they are a real problem in this area, both for the leadership and the people.
Chris Mataruka: How do they operate?
Headman Nemasase: They are cults who recruit youths who do not know any better, and it is easier for them to find willing recruits because the youths have no jobs or any source of income and there is a great deal of poverty. They assign each other to get to different homesteads, plant various occult objects in people’s fields so that they dig these up the following day and accuse the unsuspecting people.
Takudzwa Mazwienduna: What kind of occult objects?
Headman Nemasase: They maybe horns, baboon skulls and animal teeth.
Chris Mataruka: Who are their main targets?
Headman Nemasase: In some villages they are actually used by rival chiefs to accuse certain chiefs so that they dethrone them and cause chaos, but the people most affected are the gullible and vulnerable people, and usually the youth doing their economically successful projects. No one is safe from falling victim from these cults.
Takudzwa Mazwienduna: What are the specific problems caused by these witch hunters?
Headman Nemasase: They cause chaos because mobs they stir up tend to get violent towards the accused, and they tend to go against chiefs too. They are guilty of extortion as they rob people of their possessions in broad daylight. They tarnish people’s characters for no reason and they feed in to a culture of hatred.
Chris Mataruka: What should be done to counter this witch-hunting problem?
Headman Nemasase: The majority of the Youth need to find meaningful productive income, generating initiatives that will make them less desperate to participate and cooperate with such dubious entities. The community should also be made aware about the dangers of giving in to witch hunting escapades. They should also be made aware of what the law in Zimbabwe says because the constitution forbids it. There is need to work with the police to enforce the law. The uniformed forces have been letting this go because they do not have resources to operate in remote areas such as here. Last but not least, the youth should be educated so that their knowledge increases their immunity to superstitions and so they won’t be susceptible to this destructive practice.
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We couldn’t have said it any better. The same phenomenon is happening in several parts of Eastern Zimbabwe and Headman Nemasase is not the only leader facing this dilemma. The International Institute for Development Facilitation seeks to tackle this problem with the help of the Young Humanist Forum and is currently researching more on this and other cultural phenomena that are destructive to humanity. The organisation mobilise more resources so as to do more research on the issue and come up with initiatives to counter the Tsikamutanda phenomenon. For your support and feedback, contact us through our website iidfzimbabwe.org or email team members Chris Mataruka at firstname.lastname@example.org and Takudzwa Mazwienduna at email@example.com