Maputo — Four members of the New Age cult "Orgonise Africa", arrested in the western Mozambican province of Tete on 21 April, have been released after local prosecutors decided there was no evidence that they had intended to commit sabotage.
The group was led by Georg Ritschl, a German architect resident in South Africa, and also included Carlos de Jesus Silva (a Portuguese hotelier resident in Holland), Tino Phutheso (a Botswanan aircraft pilot), and Joseph Nqusato (a South African self-styled "prophet").
They were caught heaving lumps of a substance known as "orgonite" off the side of a boat into the Cahora Bassa lake. The police claimed that this was an attempt to sabotage the Cahora Bassa dam, and the Public Prosecutor's Office duly charged them with sabotage and polluting the lake.
The police, prosecutors, and much of the Mozambican press had difficulty in dealing with the case, because lunatic fringe groups such as "Orgonise Africa" are mercifully rare in Mozambique. In particular, Mozambicans had never come across the theories of the deranged Austrian-American psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich before.
Reich believed he had discovered a universal form of energy called orgone. This was the force involved in the human orgasm, which was also responsible for a vast gamut of phenomena from the weather, to gravity, to the formation of galaxies. Anything that goes wrong in the world, such as disease, or drought, or floods, is due to a shortage of orgone.
Although Reich died in an American jail in 1957, he still has disciples, who believe they can cue the world of its ills by the use of "orgonite". It is not very difficult to make orgonite - the websites of orgone enthusiasts give instructions. It consists of metal shavings (any metal will do, but the "Orgonise Africa" group were using aluminium), quartz crystals and fibre glass resin.
This was the stuff which, in cone-shaped lumps, Ritschl and his friends were tipping into the lake, in order to combat "negative energy" (which, like orgone, only exists in the minds of this cult's followers). Their own boat had broken down, so they took a commercial boat up river towards Zumbo, on the border with Zimbabwe. They were spotted, their odd behaviour aroused suspicion, and they were eventually arrested.
According to a report in Monday's issue of the Maputo daily "Noticias", the Tete provincial attorney, Bernardo Junior Duce, said the four were released last Friday because laboratory tests done in South Africa and Brazil showed that orgonite was indeed harmless.
This is a conclusion that should have been reached weeks earlier. For HCB, the company that runs the Cahora Bassa dam, carries out daily tests of the water in the lake. Back in early May, HCB chairperson Paulo Muxanga told AIM the tests revealed that the water quality was unchanged.
Nothing in orgonite is corrosive - but even if it were, and the stuff were to dissolve in the lake, there was simply too little of it to cause any damage. According to the police the group was carrying 500 kilos of orgonite - but even if they threw it all into the lake, this would hardly alter its composition, since the Cahora Bassa reservoir contains 56 cubic kilometres of water.
Now that the case has been closed, the Tete provincial court will now return to the four their boat, vehicle and other equipment that was seized in April.
Perhaps the four will return home having learnt the salutary lesson that you should ask permission before tipping rubbish into other people's lakes.