Of treason and witchcraft

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By Munhamu Pekeshe

GOVERNANCE in Unyetu during the war was split between the Rhodesian state, the community and macomrades.
The Rhodesian state, despite being severely handicapped by encroaching liberated zones, sought to assert its authority over terrorism and stock theft matters.
The community, in its semi liberated state now had control over all other issues except capital crimes; witchcraft and treason.
This was the birth of village courts… I shed a tear for these noble ideas quickly forgotten.
Witchcraft and treason fell under the jurisdiction of vanamukoma, the comrades.
Treason, known as selling out, kutengesa, meant rebelling against the future Zimbabwe State.
By the end of the war, five gentlemen had been convicted and executed for treason and witchcraft and several were executed for terrorism and stock theft.
In the case of the five gentlemen they met their fate after a trial process managed by macomrades.
Three were killed for selling out and two for defiling our spirituality. Those summarily executed by the Rhodesian regime included men and women suspected of collaborating with the comrades or being beneficiaries of stock theft meat, makabichi.
Those executed by macomrades included two businessmen killed for delivering poisoned clothes to vanamukoma and a local teacher killed for selling out in ways that were never made public.
With hindsight of recent research we now realise that many who met the businessmen’s fate were entrapped to die by agents of the Rhodesian regime.
A famous traditional healer and his assistant were killed for practising incest.
The latter offence fell in the domain of witchcraft.
There were many other deaths in combat or crossfire as is expected in war situations.
During the making of our constitution capital punishment was an emotive subject.
In the end we settled to partially retain it for various offences that include treason but exclude witchcraft.
Attitudes towards treason have not changed significantly from pre-colonial times when these were capital crimes.
Witchcraft is now no longer a capital offence and while it remains on our statutes it has been relegated to a community/religious issue.
In the Mutapa State, treason and witchcraft were for several centuries punishable by death.
In the Ndebele State we are favoured with several accounts of capital punishment being applied in treason and witchcraft offences.
As one approaches Bulawayo from the direction of Harare, 17km before Bulawayo, on the right side of the road in a distance is a flat topped hill called Ntabazinduna.
This is the hill on which the infamous iNtaba yezinduna massacre took place.
Mzilikazi ordered all those who had conspired to have him replaced by heir apparent, Nkulumane, killed.
These included Nkulumane’s mother Mwaka, Lobhengula’s mother Fulatha, all of Nkulumane’s izinduna and perhaps Nkulumane himself. Their crime being that when the king made no appearance for a couple of years, they assumed he had got lost and perished, and proceeded with plans to install Nkulumane as new king.
During Mzilikazi’s reign it was not unusual for someone to be smelt out for witchcraft or treason.
“The king had caused to be smelt out, because of his wealth, a man named Ndhlovu.”
This excerpt from an account of life under king Mzilikazi is revealing of how witchcraft or treason accusations could be manipulated to settle grudges over material wealth.
In another incident we are told, “My father was smelt out for having placed a spell upon a chief, for whose sudden illness they had sought a reason.
“My father died, killed by order of the king.”
In African beliefs, illness and death are messengers of witchcraft.
During the reign of Lobengula, Princess Mncengence, a sister to the king and for many years the royal court queen, was killed having been accused of bewitching Queen Zhwalile to prevent her from bearing Lobengula an heir.
Despite her immense power and influence, Princess Mncengence was smelt out by Gulukudwana Zondo, Lobengula’s Chief Isanuse (Intelligence Officer).
One view is that the witchcraft allegations were manufactured by those who were jealousy over her delays in retiring from her role of Senior Queen, following Lobengula’s marriage to Zhwalile.
Six other people were killed for complicity in the Princess’s witchcraft. Lotshe Hlabangana narrowly escaped execution on a witchcraft charge around the same time.
In the pre-colonial period religious characters had three key responsibilities; Rainmaking, Health and Military success.
Rainmaking was the responsibility of Mwari priests that had practised it over millennia.
Health, in particular healing the king, was the responsibility of the Dhlodhlos (of the Mpangazitha tradition) and military success involved war rituals and during the heyday of the Ndebele State, Dula was converted into a war shrine, Ilitshe lemikhonto or Red Axe Shrine.
Today treason is a well-developed transgression in our statutes.
We have however neglected witchcraft and left it as a local community issue.
Unscrupulous tsikamutandas have moved in swiftly to fill the void leaving our cattle kraals poorer.

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