15 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Is It About Merit or Magic?

People do all sorts of things to protect their jobs and to climb the ladder. Is it all about merit or a little magic, literally, is needed? Belief is rife in Zimbabwe that for all the good attributes in a worker a little hand of the supernatural is not unwelcome or unsought after. Think of n'angas, mapostori, or even the magic handkerchiefs that are now freely being distributed in evangelical and "prosperity-gospel" churches.

Many employers and employees acknowledge that rituals and superstitions at workplaces are rife.

"I worked in South Africa as a miner during the apartheid era and I must say sangomas were very popular those days. I remember our employer hiring one to exorcise what he termed evil spirits at the workplace. Even other miners would bring lucky charms to protect themselves from others," said 74-year-old Tedius Mbewe.

There are many rituals done by workmates to either get promotion or to protect themselves from adversaries -- real or perceived.

Long distance drivers who spoke to this writer said they have to make some rituals before embarking on a long journey.

"When it comes to driving, there are many things needed to guide you through the journey. One might be a very careful driver but there are times when the body becomes tired and that is where divine intervention comes in. I usually visit my religious leader to give me 'blessed waters and stones' to protect me all the way," said Davison Mtetwa, a truck driver.

Another driver, Arnold Guvaro, said it was impossible for truck drivers to change vehicles.

"It's an unwritten rule that vehicles don't change hands, even if one is sick his truck is not driven by other drivers," Guvaro said.

The driver acknowledged unconfirmed reports that some truck drivers use "baboons" to drive their trucks while they are asleep.

Takesure Moyo, who works for a manufacturing company, said even in the "industry" superstitions were rife.

"I have been working with different ethnic groups for the past 20 years and I must say people are engrossed in workplace rituals. There was an old man who did not want his locker to be opened by anyone else. I remember in 2007, he had to travel from Binga to unlock his locker, he could have easily send someone since he had left his keys in the office," Moyo said.

It also emerged that some employees don't want anyone to start the machines or anyone to sit on their work station.

Even in elegant offices where people wear suits and ties, women in high heel shoes and expensive costumes, workplace superstition still rules the roost.

An intern at an established enterprise in the capital narrated his first day at the company.

"I was straight from college, and it never crossed my mind that a person can be upset if I sat on his chair when he is away. No one ever told me I should not sit on the chair and when the supposed owner returned, all hell broke loose," narrated the intern student.

It later dawned on him that even when the person was not around and the chairs were all occupied, no one dared to sit on his chair.

"I had a colleague who always emphasised that her bottom drawer was out of reach and one day I became curious and opened the drawer. I noticed that there were small roots stashed in pill plastics," said one employee in Harare.

It has become the norm for many people to hang religious regalia in their offices.

Some have arm bands, garments and calendars in their offices and most people confirmed that they were "scaring away" the devil in their offices.

A vendor who sells recharge cards in Harare's central business district area said he always puts a white cloth under his seat to scare away the menacing municipal police and shrug off competition from other vendors.

"Each time I have a cloth underneath, the municipal police do not confiscate my stuff. I remember one day, when I forgot the cloth at home, my recharge cards were all taken and I have made it a habit to carry it wherever I go," he said.

Recently, there was a poster hanged precariously on a tree near Parirenyatwa Hospital which read: "Herbalist Umoria Unoka from Cameroon helps people with different ailments. Are you suffering from cancer, tuberculosis, erection dysfunctional or you want to be promoted at work? Please call for help."

Away from the conventional workplace, soccer players seem to have taken their rituals to the field of play. Most players seek divine intervention at the goal post to have a "good" day in office. Others have a habit of pouring snuff at the goal posts while some players have been caught urinating on the field of play.

There are many herbalists, pastors, prophets, traditional healers and apostles who purport to bless people with instant promotions at workplace.

Pastor Alfred Mtengwa of Fountain of Life Ministries said it was not bad for people to seek God's power to get promoted but he castigated people who use other means like cloths, stones or goblins to get noticed.

"Promotion does not come from the east or the west but it comes from God. We urge people to pray to God and if you have your Jesus, he will always be there unlike a cloth which one sometimes forgets," said the pastor.

"We denounce people who use witchcraft at work to get promoted and these things have consequences. When we have crusades, some people come to us with troubling goblins to burn them," he added.

Prophet Abraham Hunidza of Johanne Yenguwo Tsvuku said it had become a norm for people to come begging for "muteuro" to get security and promotions at the workplace.

"There is nothing sinister about that. We always give people 'waters' to protect themselves, the Holy Spirit tells us so," said Prophet Abraham.

He said the Holy Spirit was there to guide people in their every day lives, wherever the people might be, be it at workplaces, homes or during the journey.

Mr Alpheus Murimo, a registered traditional healer with Zimbabwe Traditional Healers Association (Zinatha), said there was nothing wrong with making rituals at the workplaces.

"Our ancestors used to appease spirits before they embarked on a journey or hunting, and this day the jungle is the workplace and there is nothing wrong with carrying 'protective' medicines to work," said Murimo.

Human resource lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe Tawanda Zinyama said people should be recruited on merit.

"This is the norm world over; people are recruited on the basis of their academic qualifications. Yes, some people believe in lucky charms but I don't think it works," he said.

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