Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu
A recent mishap involving a couple of self-confessed witches whose mysterious nocturnal aircraft inadvertently crash-landed in Harare’s Budiriro suburb has sent tongues wagging and a current of fear through corridors of Zimbabwe’s law enforcement agencies.
The witches said they were from Gokwe, and were six when they started their scary trip at about 2100 hours, give or take an hour. The two witches appeared to be in their late teens or maybe early 20s.
They were as naked as when their mothers bore them when an apostolic church member spotted them in the small hours of a rather chilly morning. He gave them a few rags with which to cover their bare essentials before he alerted the nearest police station.
At the time of writing this opinion article, the two Gokwe natives had pleaded guilty to whatever charges the police had preferred against them.
However, the magistrate rejected their guilty pleas, and advised them to plead otherwise because, he thought, there were chances and possibilities of an acquittal. So, they were remanded in custody pending further investigations leading to a trial.
Stories about witches and sorcery in general are quite common in Zimbabwe.
A few years ago one such happening featured in some of the national print media in the Masvingo province’s Zaka district. There were no winnowing baskets, however.
That story and those before and immediately afterwards featured such weird animals as hyenas, nocturnal, carnivorous birds such as owls of various types, charms and herbs and other magical odds and ends.
The witches were also reported to have visited cemeteries where they exhumed and consumed rancid human flesh dead at the darkest hour of the night.
Considering that a grave’s average depth is two metres, we can rightly say that it is no mean feat for the witches to reach the buried bodies or for these bodies to respond to the witches’ magic call by pushing upwards from the bottom of the graves to become the witches macabre meal.
In the case of our Gokwe-Budiriro witches, we are told that they used a winnowing basket (ukhomani, rusero, luselo) to fly or float from Gokwe to Budiriro.
A winnowing basket is the most fragile of Zimbabwe’s basketry products which comprise tswanda, seme inchebethu, tundu, nhengwana.
Even mats (amacansi) are not so strong as to carry a human body and float on or fly through the air, to say nothing about the very possibility of any of those handicrafts defying the force of gravity by lifting from the ground by means of non-existing steam or whatever other energy.
We have to identify that power or force.
It is because of such defiance of some scientific laws of nature by some of the practices of witchcraft as the one quoted above that it should be of much interest to a modern technological mind.
If it is indeed true, and there is no doubt that it is, there is a need to investigate the Gokwe witchcraft story to find out whether or not it has a potential for the economic and/or social development of Zimbabwe.
Taking the Gokwe-Budiriro incident as an example of what Zimbabwean witchcraft can offer the aviation industry, a research centre could be established with some witches playing major roles for which they would be duly paid.
The Government could play a facilitator’s role, leaving the field to private individuals and companies to research, invest, produce and market the products and services.
If winnowing baskets (njiselo) can actually transport people from Gokwe to Harare (and at night at that) it means that shorn of its negative aspects, this particular type of Zimbabwean witchcraft can be turned into a most useful and usable technological wizardry.
This is an obvious challenge to the country’s universities and ought to be treated as an opportunity towards technological progress and advancement in modern methods of travelling.
Investigative journalists should now develop this story from its very start up to its logical conclusion. Its very start is the society in which the alleged witches live and practise their secretive science. The logical conclusion is effect (or effects) of witchcraft on its victims.
In the Gokwe-Budiriro experience, it is utterly not enough to deal with the issue from the police angle. That legalistic and security aspect of it leaves many questions unanswered because it deals with a tiny segment of a very big issue.
Among those questions are: Who are the husbands and children of those purported witches? What about their parents? What do they think and say about all this?
Under which traditional leaders (chiefs) headman, kraal heads) do these people live? What do these leaders think and say about all this? For how long have these leaders known that there are such witches in their midst?
Local religious organisations certainly have a position or positions on such a development as the Gokwe-Budiriro episode. Are these alleged witches members of some of these churches?
Were they in fact baptised for them to become members? What will now happen to their membership? This last question is very exciting if
the alleged witches hold senior church positions.
This strange occurrence calls for professional journalists to expose some or all of the activities of these witches and their consequences.
It is a rare opportunity for some journalists to show the world what they are professionally made of.
I believe that the witches and wizards are more or less normal human beings one of whose wishes is to create and enjoy maximum material comforts (hence their hitherto advanced winnowing basket aviation). Offered adequate financial remuneration for their hitherto secret skills and knowledge, they can help make this world a better place for its people, flora and fauna.
The establishment of a national academy in such regions as Gokwe can help arrest and guide many aspects of this highly feared, secretive science.
The opinion of this author is that witchcraft should not be feared, but should be challenged to undo but consequences it might have caused, bringing happiness and relief where it had caused sorrow and pain.
Zimbabwe is not short of enterprising or of properly educated people who should take the Gokwe-Budiriro witches episode as an opportunity to improve and increase the country’s public transport services and infrastructure. In any case, a properly educated person has no room in his or her mind for fear of the unknown.
With some investment, Gokwe town can become a centre of the manufacturing of modern witchcraft products that can be exported with the passage of time and as technological enlightenment removes the black shroud of secretiveness from Zimbabwean traditional technological wizardry.
Young people with a vision will not fail to see an advantage in opening taxi and bus companies at Gokwe, and be ready to enter what we may call “the Winnowing Basket Transport Age.”
Meanwhile, the first Zimbabwean university to take part in the first public “Winnowing Basket Demonstration Flight”’ will go down in the country’s technological history annals as the country’s educational institution of destiny.
Pursuing this proposed research project would neither be out of place nor strange but would be in harmony with the aims and objectives of scholars such as Dr Michael Gelfand and Professor Gordon Chavunduka.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a Bulawayo-based retired journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734328136 or firstname.lastname@example.org