The Herald (Harare)

21 February 2013

Zimbabwe: When Two Jumbos Lock Horns . . .

Gonarezhou National Park sits right on the lap of what is really an African safari. It is a lustrous spectacle of scattered deciduous trees and earthly coloured rocks far away from intruding crowds from Zimbabwe's major cities, elephants are royal family of the land. Birds of the sky intone songs of tranquillity as herds of the biggest creature on land trek up and down the park.

In such serene African safari, situated to the south of Zimbabwe, elephants are mostly at peace with each other, in fact, nature is at peace with itself and human tourists from cities all over the world come and witness the harmonies of God's creation with awe.

What a refreshing adventure it is to disembark wagons of monotony and everyday hustle characterising city life and be at the crest of natural armistice where the whistling of blowing winds is more a welcome whisper in to a natural paradise.

Such is a paradise fixed far away from the deliriums of the crowd and meddling trouble.

Even amid this tranquil geography, where birds join voices in that great jungle orchestra to sing songs of unity and peace as trees nod in approval in their swinging up and down in that body of sweeping winds, elephants, sometimes, find the occasion to fight.

Yes! They rarely do so but occasionally lock horns.

With their colossal hoofs trembling on the ground, they dig cockpits of rage as they tussle for supremacy while their huge frames get eclipsed in blinding interminable serpents of dust heading skywards, it is one of the most fierce beastly bouts in the safari that are so ugly as death.

Innocent trees, bushes, grass, ants and every other creeping creature that goes in contact with the fighting beasts, undoubtedly, get trapped in doom.

When two elephants lock tusks in such a ferocious fight, it is geography that suffers the most.

The fate of geography when two elephants fight in the jungle resonates with how ordinary people have fallen under the trembling feet of the two fighting phenomena which are what the law stands to protect on one side and what faith, beliefs and religion is all about on the other.

The big fight between two bull elephants at Gonarezhou fits the metaphor of how religious rites performed in faith have acted as a violent fight against the provision of the law.

Here is how all this happen: "I have come to report here how my neighbour has accused me of witchcraft . . . as far as I am concerned I am not a witch and have not been involved in such acts in my entire life and it really puzzles me how he could insinuate that I am one", said one Maria Chimunda (not real name) while reporting a case at Marimba Police Station.

Chimunda, according to how she related her story while reporting at Marimba Police Station in the presence of this writer, was fingered by a self-proclaimed prophet who is her neighbour in Harare's Mufakose suburb as to have bewitched the ailing baby of her tenant only identified as Mai Mike.

She had dragged Mai Mike and the prophet to the police station and the officer responsible with the case interrogated Mai Mike on what had transpired to which she passionately responded: "I believed the prophet because he helped me to conceive my baby, after 13 good years without a child in my life and my marriage was heading for breaking. Madzibaba prayed and helped me, now I have a baby.

"So after the man of God helped me to finally hold a baby in my hands it would be an insult to the creator if I disregard what he is advising me to do now so as to save the life of my child . . . Madzibaba told me that my baby's illness was being masterminded by my land lady with the aim of killing and Madzibaba performed a ritual that eventually saved the life of my baby," she said. Madzibaba said: "I don't speak things of my own, I am a man sent to help those that are bound in chains of demons of this world. I get my inspiration from God so he must be the best person to ask all those questions, am just a medium."

What the police officers at this station decided to do remains a mystery to this writer because he left the station earlier before the case had been dealt with, but the above conversation leave a lot to be desired on how beliefs have always been an excuse for breaking the law.

The recently amended Part VI of Chapter V of the Witchcraft Suppression Act states that: "Whoever accuses a person of witchcraft means to indicate that the person (is possessed by a spirit or) used non-natural means (witch-finding) to cause death, injury, disease or inability in any person. This also means that destruction or loss of or damage to property of any description was involved.

The implication of this law is that calling someone a witch without substantiating evidence is as grossly irresponsible as defaming the character of an individual.

Religious freedom as enshrined in the constitution should not be used as an evil tool to bully other provisions of the law but as a complimentary doctrine to a more democratic society.

Protection of freedom of conscience is one such a fundamental right among other 11 that make up the Declaration of Rights.

Both the outgoing Lancaster constitution and the current draft pending ratification by a referendum soon, embrace the Declaration of Rights and it is on Freedom of Conscience that freedom of worship derives its relevance.

Liberties that go out of confines and cross-purpose other provisions of the law are as treacherous as the absence of the same for a progressive society and this is getting worrisome here in Zimbabwe, especially, as most people are now riding on "religious immunity" to step on the law.

Marrying under-aged girls in most of Apostolic sects is so common place and has a silent blessing from the Government since there is not been any robust investigations conducted to either try to stop people who do that in the name of faith or church teaching or reduce the occurrence of such acts by policing the activities of these churches.

Mavis Makuse who goes to Johane Marange church says she is in a mess because of her parents' beliefs.

"My father forced me into a marriage with an old and dying friend of his, now I have these two children to raise on my own because he died, I regret all this and wish if I had been given an opportunity to make my own choices. The main reason why I was cornered is because I was still very young and could not make any meaningful decisions, it's really cruel when parents choose husbands for their children," she said.

As the two giant elephants in the form of the law and faith engage in a messy fight it is those who have been fingered as witches yet innocent and those who have been forced to marry at a very tender age to people they don't chose by themselves who suffer the trauma of living in a nation too religiously tolerant to condone lawlessness.

It is the victims of lawlessness who will forever bear the scars of this shameful drama and unless responsible authorities descend to implement the law, our nation will remain condemned for the dogs.

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