Smells and sounds of death in Chiraire River Villagers gather at the funeral wake of Ruvimbo Mandaza on Monday last week

Daniel Chigunwe

The date is September 17, 2023.

Under the blistering afternoon heat, three secondary school girls set off a village perched on a ridge in the heart of Chiweshe communal lands in Mazowe District, for a fishing escapade.

A spitting distance to the east, Chiraire River snakes up and down and sideways, flowing to the north east, in trickles as its floods level subsides in the dry season. A few kilometres downstream Chiraire River makes its final journey and vomits into its the bowls of its big brother Ruya River. Confluence!

But this time of the year, Chiraire River is a ghostly figure of its rainy season self, leaving it as mainly, a serpent of sand and exposed rocks, with a few dotted huge pools of water.

It is to these few pools that villagers trickle for many domestic chores, fishing, gardening, bathing and little everything else that water provides.

Many footpaths lead to the river, like the hands of an octopus and the three girls pick one of them that leads to a huge pool. Soon, driven by the ancient rhythm of life to get protein, the girls Ruvimbo Mandaza (19), Gracious Masakara (14) and Lorraine Chasakara (14) go for dragnet fishing.

Unbeknown to them, the pool hides a huge rock, polished smooth by years of flowing water. Unbeknown to the girls too, the rock has a sharp edge that gives way to a deep arroyo of water.

As they drag their net — an uncharacteristically wrong equipment — made from mosquito net, they slip off the edge of the rock to the deepest chasm. The three girls drown, albeit struggling to swim out. One courageous boy doing his chores by the river saw the incident but failed to rescue them.

A dark cloud, immediately hovers over Chiweshe communal lands.

News of their horrific death immediately gripped Mukodzongi, Chigwada, Ruwiza and Chinehasha village, who are closely knit as villagers.

“I am the spokesperson for the three families that lost their daughters. I know the three girls but I can give you more information about Ruvimbo whom I know better. Ruvimbo shared a strong bond with her aunt who is married in Chigwada village, so on Friday after knocking off from school she decided to visit her aunt some 5km away from her parents’ homestead.

“Being a regular guest at the warmth of her aunt’s family, Ruvimbo was not in a hurry to return home on the Sunday she died.  She decided to join her nieces Lorraine and Gracious for a fishing expedition, planning to go home later in the day, at least after the aquatic adventure,” said Mandaza.

Common in every rural area is the adventure of dragnet fishing usually done using mosquito nets and many young people embark on it more as a hobby or pastime exercise only for amusement with the excitement of making a good catch and having a sumptuous supper later in the evening, making fishing an interesting hobby.

“As they navigated they came to a certain area of the river where there are two rocks separated by water but also forming one of the deepest points of the river, it is between those two rocks that the kids slipped and drowned,” said Mandaza.

The ordeal as accounted to the elders by one boy, a survivor, who was in company of the girls, is that Ruvimbo slipped first followed by Lorraine and Gracious, “upon seeing what was happening the boy then jumped into the river where he almost managed to rescue Gracious however as he attempted to swim, Lorraine who was drowning suddenly clutched on his leg that he had to wrestle to get free at the same time losing hold of Gracious whom he had almost managed to rescue.”

According to the narration, the boy could also have been drowned had he failed to break free from the grip on his leg by poor drowning Lorraine which would have resulted in the death of all four.

Upon getting out of the water, shocked with the near-miss of death, traumatised with disappearance of the girls under the water, the boy fled home where he broke the sad news.

Ruvimbo was supposed to sit for her Zimsec  Ordinary Level examinations, whilst Lorraine and Gracious were in Form Two.

However, Chiraire river stole the hope of a nation on that day as around 4pm people watched helplessly as the lifeless bodies of the three were being retrieved from the water before being taken to Concession Hospital Mortuary.

Later on Monday, three coffins carrying the bodies of the girls were brought for burial as wailing, weeping, and mourning filled air in Chigwada and Mukodzongi homesteads as people could not come to terms with the tragic death of these innocent souls.

The pain of motherhood touched even Chief Negomo’s wife who came to pay condolences, comforting the bereaved families as well as supporting with food items.

The calamitous incident also invoked the mercy of the constituency’s leader Member of Parliament Maxmore Njanji who joined the community in condolences and in the spirit of lightening the sorrow of burdened families, he secured coffins for all the three deceased before providing food.

Nature has it designed that children shall bury their parents but when it is reversed to have mothers laying wreaths on the graves of their daughters, the pain of the womb is multiplied.

Ruvimbo was laid to rest in Mukodzongi village whilst Lorraine and Gracious were interred at Chigwada homestead. However, the curtain of sorrow still hangs among the families and villagers wondering at the ruthlessness of the Chiraire River. These are surely the sounds and smells of death of Chiraire River.

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