When the dead fight from the grave
Elliot Ziwira Senior Writer
Mysteries surrounding murders and the reasons behind them have been known to engulf communities in both grief and fear, particularly where the perpetrators are not brought to book, hence, the intervention of spirits in balancing the scales of justice.
It is heart-numbing to realise that the number of people who lose lives to violent crime continues to surge in Zimbabwe, with a stunning 1 383 murder cases having been tried at the High Court in 2023.
Statistics from the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) indicate that the Midlands Province was the bloodiest, accounting for 379 of handled murder cases, followed by Matabeleland South at 223 and Bulawayo at 168.
Mashonaland West Province stands at position four, with 151 cases, followed by Harare at 143, Manicaland (107), Masvingo (81), and Mashonaland Central (63). Matabeleland North Province had the least murder cases at 23, while Mashonaland East recorded 45.
Figures from the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) show that the number of people caged for homicide rose from 630 to 845 between January and October 2021.
By November 2022, the figure had increased to 984.
According to ZPCS, more than 30 percent of the cases were attributed to ritual purposes; while the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency reveals that at least 40 percent of the 3 600 murder cases documented in 2022 were alleged ritual killings.
So widespread are incidents of ritual killing that in recent times barely a fortnight passes without the Zimbabwean media reporting on the heinous act in its various ghastly shades.
Just recently, three-year-old Caroline Makubhwakwa of Mhokwe Village, Mushumbi, Guruve in Mashonaland Central Province, was murdered for suspected ritual purposes, and her assailants are still unaccounted for.
Having gone missing on January 17, Caroline’s remains were found in a gully at the foot of Mavhuradona Mountain on January 25, with some of her body parts missing.
Curiously, death appears to have become fashionable in changing people’s lifestyles through money-making sacraments where human blood and choice body parts are concocted to presumed instant riches.
Whispers from beyond the grave
Miffed by how the living seem to bungle on restorative and restitutive justice, spirits have not been dampened by the 21st Century and its information superhighway in their quest to solve their own murder puzzles.
Across cultures, there is always that grisly murder case which eludes logic, remaining unresolved for generations, leaving the community horrified, loved ones heartbroken, and the police flummoxed as justice is etched on the receding horizon.
Hungry for justice, the community searches deeper into its pockets of collective memory to determine what could have happened to one of its own, whose departure was neither premeditated nor explicable.
Without closure, the wounds remain fresh with each day bringing more questions than answers.
Waking up to the sight of a lifeless loved one sprawled out in a pool of blood, with eyes gouged out, face smashed in, stomach sliced open and limbs hacked with hacksaw precision, the community is immersed in both sorrow and fear.
With the only witnesses being the all-seeing and voiceless moon, gleaming like a huge diamond on black velvet, and tweeting honey-bird, the killer walks scot-free.
Thus, the story is told from one generation to another of how vivacious Tete Mwanaka lost the inevitable battle with the Grim Reaper in such horrendous circumstances on her wedding night.
All fingers pointed to her ostensibly jealous ex-boyfriend, Chomi, but he had an alibi as bright as the moonlight on a cloudless night in August.
It may as well be the tale of Sekuru Tau, who cheerily left home one summer morning for his daily rendezvous with toil to bring grub to his family’s table, but never came back.
He just disappeared from the face of the earth, leaving no footprints.
Or that of Mukoma Barnabas, who was butchered in the community’s glare for a yet to be disclosed misunderstanding.
Curiously, the long arm of the law could not reach his assailants’ abode, for one reason or the other.
In all instances, the handle on the story remains loose, and the lid refuses to close.
Defeated by reason and seemingly shunned by conventional laws of fairness, the grieving community appeals to karma to locate the murderer and say to him/her: “My name is justice, follow me!”
Then, one wintry morning, an eerie whisper is heard from beyond the grave, imploring the living to take heed.
Searching in its memory bank again, the community awakens to the reality that has always been known: human life is sacrosanct, for man is a spiritual being.
When the dead take the lead in settling scores with the living, the story takes a controversial twist in which standing on the fence is as precarious as taking sides.
Through shared memory, the community knows at last the honeybird has recalled the night of that ghastly and surreal night.
Closure may be at hand, but that might as well be the beginning of gnashing and gnawing of teeth, for spirits are known to be vengeful, unforgiving and uncompromising where restorative and restitutive justice is concerned.
When such stories are told, there are those who rubbish them, preferring the solace of science, logic or even religion, but all the more, they will listen to give vent to their own fears. There are those who readily believe, having experienced the macabre reel-outs first-hand; and those hankering on the fringes willing to be convinced.
And, the spirits are unperturbed by either race, ethnicity or turn of centuries!
But, will the living take heed? Will they ever listen?
The dead and the living interact across cultures
The rush for riches evidenced in the rise in ritual murders reported across the country, compounded by the dark nature of man’s heart, has seen kith and kin intensifying the onslaught against each other.
For starters, there is a case before the courts in Zimbabwe, involving a mother, who allegedly connived with her son to kill her other child sometime in January 2021. In an attempt to cover up the murder, the duo buried the body in a shallow grave in their backyard in Borrowdale, Harare.
His crime: being a drug addict, abusive and violent.
Tracy Samantha Carr (55) and her son, Norman Tyron (32) were apprehended for the murder of Dylan, whom they allegedly shot through the latter’s pull on the trigger. After wrapping the deceased in a blanket and disposing of his cadaver, the duo forgot about the issue, assuming the world would also forget Dylan.
However, Dylan, no matter the effect of his misdemeanours on the psyche of his mother and brother, sought justice from the shallow grave barely two months later. His brother Tyron, it is said, became feverish in hospital after being involved in an accident, and admitted to the killing, leading to the discovery of Dylan’s body and the pair’s subsequent arrest.
Dylan still seeks peaceful rest as the case is yet to be concluded.
The import of this reference is to situate the issue of spirits interacting with the living for the sake of justice across cultures, since it involves a white Zimbabwean family.
Spirits bring truth to light
In an article titled “Spirits can solve their own murders”, published in Sunday Guardian Live on October 26, 2019, Veenu Sandal made reference to an Indian “sweet looking, articulate, well-regarded lady”, who allegedly killed six family members over a period of several years by administering cyanide to them, until she was exposed through one misstep.
Pointing out that evidence was still to emerge on whether the victims were involved in seeking justice, Sandal contends that victims of unnatural death always ensure that the “truth is revealed and will not rest in peace till due punishment is meted out.”
He maintains: “Each spirit chooses its own mode of bringing the truth to light.
“For example, some choose to appear in a relative or friend or someone’s dream or directly before them and narrate the details of what happened to them. Some spirits force the culprit to make an admission of their guilt. In fact, there are several oft cited cases where the law has been guided by a spirit.”
No matter the circumstances of their untimely deaths; either through violence or poisoning, victims will seek justice in several ways, only that the living sometimes fail to get the message.
Victims of murder need closure to their own stories too, so that they move forward to the other side of life unfettered.
For peace to prevail and restitutive justice to be meted out, there is a need to consider the yearning voices of the dead, for it is this that heals wounds and reconciles families, as the following examples attest to.
The story of Anne Walker
When Anne Walker, who lived in Chester-in-the-Street, County Palatine of Durham, England, was murdered sometime in 1681, her spirit could not find peace until her killers were arrested, charged and hanged.
Soaked in blood, with five open wounds on her head, Walker’s apparition waylaid one James Grime (pronounced Graham), a miller, one midnight a fortnight later.
She told him her name, and that she was murdered by Mark Sharp using a pickaxe on the instruction of her relative, Mr Walker, a man of good standing, by whom she was pregnant.
Walker had lied to her that he would send her to a private place and look after her. She described to Grime how she was killed and where her body was buried; and attempts Sharp made to conceal evidence of the deed.
Anne Walker cautioned: “And now James Grime I am come to you, that by revealing this bloody act my murderers may be brought to justice; which unless you do, I will continually pursue and haunt you.”
She, indeed, appeared to Grime on two more occasions, as he dithered on taking the message to the Justice of Peace, refusing to believe it. Following the dead young woman’s pleas and threats, he eventually went to the authorities with the horrific news.
The identified pit was combed, and Anne Walker’s body was found.
Walker and Sharp were apprehended, tried, convicted by a jury and sentenced to death by Judge Davenport.
It is said that the foreman of the jury saw a child on Walker’s shoulders during the trial, and the judge was described as “under such a concern and uneasiness” that he immediately rose and passed the death sentence on the prisoners as soon as the verdict was pronounced, which was unusual.
Hysteria strikes nine women from one family
As reported by The Herald, in January 1998, the spirit of a murdered man decided to pay the family of his killer a visit in Chief Mangwende’s domain of Murehwa to settle scores for a deathly wrong done in Bulawayo in 1958. On the occasion, nine women married into the same family became hysterical, leading another member to confess to a murder he committed 40 years earlier.
According to the police, villagers in Juru Village were left dumbfounded when they saw the nine women behaving strangely. They had all lost their senses and were climbing trees and making a lot of noise. Chief Mangwende was informed and several traditional healers were called in to handle the situation.
The man who refused to be buried
When Moses Chokuda was murdered on March 22, 2009, he “refused” to be buried for two years and seven months, tormenting his killers and forcing two of them to convert to Christianity.
He would sometimes be seen seated on his metal coffin or other coffins in the mortuary at Gokwe Hospital, as attempts to bury him failed, with his father, Tawengwa saying he was “fighting his own war”.
His father demanded 70 head of cattle, US$15 000, and a young woman as compensation from then Midlands Governor Jason Machaya, whose son, Farai and three others, Abel Maposa, Edmore Gana and Bothwell Gana were convicted of Chokuda’s murder. High Court Judge Justice Nicholas Mathonsi, on circuit in Gweru, sentenced the four to 18 years in jail in 2011.
Moses was accused of breaking into Farai Machaya’s Green Diamond Supermarket at Gokwe Centre with the help of two other men, Isheunesu Sibanda and Leeroy Ndokwana.
Following discussions with the Chokuda family, mediated by Chief Njelele, Machaya paid 35 cattle and US$15 000, even though his son committed the crime with three accomplices.
Chokuda’s body was finally buried in Chipere Village, Gokwe, on October 29, 2011.
Spirit of slain child haunts family 57 years later
In a case reminiscent of Tapiwa Makore’s, who was murdered for suspected ritual purposes aged seven, by his uncle and his herdsman on September 17, 2020, three-year-old Bezel Chakanyuka Chiunya of Makuvaza Village in Chief Mangwende’s realm of Murehwa was killed for the same motive in 1960.
However, in 2017, 57 years later, Chakanyuka’s spirit sought justice from the family of one of his killers.
The spirit spoke through Innocent Cheza (27), grandson to the late Solomon Cheza, who supposedly murdered Chakanyuka, abetted by his friend Simon Mutandwa Gotora, also late, to boost his farming enterprises.
The spirit exposed details of the murder one afternoon when the child was left at home in the company of other children after their parents had gone to a funeral wake in the area. Upon their return, the parents conducted a search for their son with the assistance of other villagers, but it yielded nothing except more pain, anxiety and regret.
The case was reported to the police, but it remained unresolved for close to six decades.
Chakanyuka’s spirit revealed that his body was hidden in the killer family’s granary, after rituals were performed by a traditional healer.
Chakanyuka’s parents died before their son’s quest for justice.
While Solomon Cheza’s widow admitted to the killing, as she recalled how her husband came home with his clothes drenched in blood, Gotora’s widow, who was 82 in 2017, denied her late husband’s involvement.
The Cheza family paid 14 head of cattle and a goat to the Chiunyas as compensation to bring closure to a 57-year-old puzzle, and afford Chakanyuka peace.