Thupeyo Muleya Beitbridge Bureau
They have earned different names depending on where they are operating from.
Their modus operandi and results of their mystical work has torn families apart and also divided opinion within society.
Despite being colourful characters who sometimes incite fear, inspire unproven faith and at their worst terrify their disciples, self-proclaimed witch-hunters (Tsikamutandas) have on many occasions left a trail of controversies.
At a time when people think they have seen the last of Tsikamutandas — the witch-hunters are back in business. Even the Covid-19 lockdown has not deterred these cunning conmen.
They continue to scam unsuspecting communities.
In Beitbridge, Tsikamutandas have been taking advantage of Covid-19 restrictions to prey on villagers.
The self-proclaimed witch-hunters have taken advantage of cracks within families as a result of pressures that come with the indefinite Covid-19 lockdown.
They have accused some family members of bewitching others, inciting fear and persuading them that they need spiritual cleansing.
In return, the conmen are paid handsomely.
In Beitbridge, villagers are furious at these broomstick floating style self-proclaimed prophets.
Villagers claim the witch-hunters are violating women, raping girls and leaving many at each other’s throats through their unverified prophecies.
In addition, they have been a source of strife and on several occasions, their footprints have left tears, accusations and regrets.
They are a menace, which strikes like a “demon” and villagers want them exorcised and return to sanity in society.
Mr Jabulani Makhado, a member of the Vhembe Development Association (made up of rural people from Beitbridge) said many villagers were disturbed by the conduct of these characters.
The association is one of the many organisations pushing for the restoration of sanity in communities.
According to Mr Makhado, the most affected areas are Masera, Swereki, Makangale and Zezani 2 (in Beitbridge West Constituency).
“We have since approached the local headmen and Chief Tshitaudze over the matter,” he said. “According to our findings, the chief has since instructed some traditional leaders under his jurisdiction to stop entertaining these divisive characters.”
Mr Makhado further explained: “In fact, Chief Tshitaudze has never sanctioned the fraudulent presence and activities of the Tsikamutandas.
“What we are getting is that there are a few councillors and senior village heads under headmen Mazibeli, Siyoga, Makhado and Khohomela who are said to be working with these people to help exorcise their villages of evil and witchcraft.”
In some places, Mr Makhado said, they have been making a killing, getting livestock from people on claims of doing wonders.
He said the Tsikamutandas had left many families and communities divided after accusing some members of witchcraft.
Mr Makhado said they will soon hold another meeting with senior traditional leaders to map the way forward and to minimise social strife emanating from the exorcising missions.
The Tsikamutandas were finally chased away following instructions from Chief Tshitaudze.
“The chaos has seen the services of some village heads being withdrawn and some might even be replaced at the conclusion of various traditional courts,” revealed Mr Makhado.
To ensure they fully tackle the issue, they also enlisted the services of the police to help reign in the Tsikamutandas.
The police officer Commanding Beitbridge, Chief Superintendent Tichaona Nyongo, said they had received reports from several traditional leaders over the menacing prophets.
“We have since advised the local traditional leaders, including Chief Tshitaudze, to engage the communities and the village heads to agree on ground rules,” he said.
“We have also directed some of our police managers to work with the communities to ensure there is self-cohesion in the identified areas. People must live in harmony and we are there to help where need be.”
Chief Tshitaudze said he had since summoned some traditional leaders for disciplinary hearings after they defied his call to ban activities by the Tsikamutandas in his area.
“We will not entertain dubious characters who are taking advantage of people, duping them of livestock,” he said. “In some cases, they are leading young girls astray and are fuelling adulterous affairs.
“So far we have suspended a number of traditional leaders for defying our orders to ban these Tsikamutandas. Some of them are not even licensed as faith or traditional healers. We will not stop until we bring sanity to this area.
“As the community leaders, we are going to use all the available legal instruments to put an end to the business of such people who are dividing families, mostly due to unfounded claims.”
Chief Tshitaudze urged members of the community to complement the efforts being made by traditional leaders to maintain peace and stability.
He said the family institution was important, hence people must safeguard unity at all times.
In Zimbabwe, it is a punishable offence to employ a witch hunter under the Witchcraft Suppression Act Chapter 9:19.
Section 5 of the Act states that; “Any person who employs or solicits any other person (a) to name or indicate any other person as a wizard or witch; or (b) to name or indicate by means of witchcraft or by application of any of the tests mentioned in the paragraph (b) of section eight or by the use of any non-natural means any person as the perpetrator of any alleged crime or other act complained of or (c) to advise him or any other person how, by means of witchcraft or by any non-natural means whatsoever, the perpetrator of any alleged or other act complained of may be discovered; shall be guilty of any offence and liable to a fine not exceeding fifty dollars or, in default of payment to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months.”
As the traditional leaders continue to rid their areas of Tsikamutandas, society should also heed the advice of police and report such people when they approach them.