Dr Sekai Nzenza On Wednesday
Children from the village school came shrieking down the hill and streamed through our gate. Some had fallen down in the sudden stampede and had bruised knees, bleeding toes and one bled from a nasty cut on his forehead. There was blood all over his blue uniform.
“We saw bhinya, the murderer. We did! He was holding a knife!” “No, it was not a knife. It was an axe. His eyes were red and his hair was like that of a crazy man,” said one voice above all the others.
‘‘No, that is not true. He did not look crazy. He was wearing a black suit and a red shirt. His tie had yellow flowers on it,” said another. “Aiwa, listen to me,” said a boy with big eyes and a round head.
“The murderer was wearing only a T-shirt and jeans, no suit at all. His head was shaved, like that of a Mupostori.” The children’s frightened voices rose higher and higher. There were almost 15 of them. Their ages varying from five to perhaps 16 years of age.
“Imi, calm down and speak slowly,” said my cousin Piri. “Did you really see Bhinya the murderer businessman or you are making all these stories up?” “No, no Tete. We saw him,” said the tallest of all the children.
He looked like one of the boys from Gudo Village.
The people from Gudo always sent their children to school very late.
When they had all calmed down and drank cups of Mazowe orange diluted with lots of water, we asked them to tell us what had actually happened to cause such a dangerous stampede down the rocky uneven hill full of sharp stones. That road was never meant for bare little feet.
There was a time when I walked that same path, running to school and I would often hit my toes against stones.
Very little has changed. The children’s fear was not without basis.
Many years ago, when it was time for pfumbvudza, the spring season when all trees come to life with new leaves, the elders said we must not walk home alone because out in the dark forests, bhinya the businessman lurked in there waiting to kidnap a child.
He would kill him or her; use her body parts for medicine, juju, muti, witchcraft or something that would magically bring enormous wealth.
At that time, there was a businessman in the village near us called Goronga. That was not his real name but a nickname given to him because people said he often took women into the goronga, or village valley and raped them.
Goronga had a small shop near the school.
It was the first shop and we called it a Hot Dog. It was just one square room with a side entrance. Then there was a big window facing the street.
Goronga was a short light-skinned man with a huge stomach.
He sat on a high stool looking through the window waiting for customers.
In his Hot Dog there were biscuits, fanta, coke, sugar, cooking oil, soap, Vaseline and other small basics.
People said Goronga was going to be richer and his Hot Dog store would become a huge wholesale shop where ploughs, fertilisers, dresses, suits, dishes, plates and many other goods found in the city will be sold.
Before he built the Hot Dog, a n’anga or witch doctor told Goronga that to get rich, he must sacrifice the body parts of a child.
So my grandmother, Mbuya VaMandirowesa said we should never walk back from school alone when the trees were all green with pfumbudza leaves.
“One day Goronga will grab you from the footpath, run away through the forests with you and kill you. He will take some of your body parts and use them to get rich,” Mbuya said.
We believed her.
In Grade One we finished school early and waited till after lunch for the older kids to walk home with us.
It was a long wait, but we played games and drew pictures in the sand.
We would eat the boiled corn, mangai mixed with nuts for lunch.
Later in the afternoon, the older kids walked in front and we looked on all sides of the road as we passed through the forests.
That way, we stayed safe from Goronga, the businessman bhinya from our village.
Goronga did not get any richer.
The people said he had failed to grab a child to add to the magic of his shop. You would see him sitting there, drinking sweet tea with big slices of bread or drinking Coke with biscuits.
When the war for independence came, Goronga kept on selling his goods.
Then one night the soldiers or maybe the comrades or some robbers came and took away everything in the shop. Goronga’s life was spared. He closed shop and never opened it again.
There was a similar kind of businessman in my mother’s village too, 40 kilometres from our village.
His name was Matiya and he owned a grinding mill. It was the only one in the area and people travelled as far across from the Save River, to bring their buckets of maize for milling.
Some travelled with donkeys and waited all day because there was a long line of customers.
Whenever we visited our mother’s maternal home, we went to get our maize milled at Matiya’s grinding mill.
Matiya himself was a very tall man, a former policeman in the Rhodesian police force who had retired back to the village to enjoy his pension.
He looked like the photo of an English colonel with a moustache.
Matiya bought a Hippo grinding mill and grew many mango trees.
But Matiya’s pension was not enough to make money and maintain his grinding mill.
He needed the body parts of an adult male to help him make money.
One day Matiya was accompanied by two guys whose names were never mentioned. They waited in the hills, next to a road used by travellers from somewhere else further down towards Mwerahari River.
A stranger on a long journey came along and they killed him.
Since the stranger was not from a village nearby, nobody came looking for him.
They said Matiya buried the man’s private parts under the cement floor. The Hippo grinding mill sat right on top of those body parts. That way, fertility or abundance would somehow flow onto the grinding mill and make more and more people bring their maize to the grinding mill.
There was a grinding mill attendant whose job was to pour buckets of maize in to the tray.
Matiya sat on a stool under the mango trees, with a bag of money on his lap. Across the road from the store was a big field where Matiya’s cattle, goats and sheep grazed.
He was a rich man.
Nobody could touch him. Not even the District Assistants from the native commissioner’s office could tell Matiya to sell his cattle and limit them to the government required minimum of five per person per African head of household. Everyone feared Matiya’s power.
For many years, Matiya was the richest man in the area. Then, one day, his 10-year old daughter woke up in the middle of the night and spoke with a deep voice like that of a man saying, “I was an innocent traveller.
“You killed me. I want my people to know what happened to me.”
The girl repeated this over days and was in a trance. Matiya and the elders met and a decision was made for a delegation to search for the murdered man’s village and begin the process of retribution and compensation.
The story of Matiya filled us with fear.
Back in our village, we saw Goronga as a better bhinya than Matiya.
And yet, we feared that there were many other men like Goronga and Matiya who murdered people to get rich.
We could never walk alone in the forests.
This fear of the bhinya or the man who will kill to get rich still lurks in the village sometimes, whether real or imaginary.
Piri said we should not totally ignore the schoolchildren’s fears.
To calm the children, we told them not to fear bhinya or mabhinya so much.
What they think they saw was likely to be imaginary, coming out of stories of fear that we all grow up with.
While the village remains beautiful and the forests are becoming lush and green, memories of bhinya, the evil man from the village, still come alive.
- Dr Sekai Nzenza is a writer and cultural critic.