A self-styled traditional healer in Gweru has detained two minor children for four years after their mother failed to pay two beasts for the treatment of a rare foot disease.
The children, now aged 11 and 15 were aged 7 and 11 respectively when their mother, Ms Simangele Zimba (33), handed them over to the n'anga, Juliet Mpofu, popularly known as Gogo Maphilisa in 2013, for treatment.
So benevolent is the traditional healer that she is paying school fees for the two children who are in grades three and six at Nyozani Primary School in Fort Rixon just outside Gweru.
The traditional healer is also taking great care of them so much that the children are now refusing to go back to their family. Gogo Maphilisa confirmed that she was detaining the kids over non-payment of the bill. "The kids are in good health," she said.
"I healed them. They are going to school. All I want is payment for the job I did. Just two beasts." Asked if the upkeep and school fees did not cost her much more than the two cows she was owed, Gogo Maphilisa said she was following the principles of the occult.
"The payment of the two beasts is a matter of principle," she said. "It is also a matter of principle that children should wear good clothes, eat good food and attend school. But without payment, I will not release them."
Police in Gweru are now negotiating with both the traditional healer and the children, who are also vehemently refusing to reunite with their mother.
Officer-in-charge of Gweru Rural Police Station Chief Inspector Samuel Tadzaushe confirmed the police mediation, but referred all questions to the Acting Midlands Provincial Police spokesperson, Assistant Inspector Ethel Mukwende, who could not be reached.
"Yes, we have such a case, but I am not allowed to speak to the Press," he said. "Get comment from the provincial spokesperson."
According to Ms Zimba, Gogo Maphilisa had initially indicated she would "admit" the kids for only two months so that she monitored the healing process before releasing them. But as a divorcee, Ms Zimba failed to raise money to buy the two beasts.
"I did not personally know Gogo Maphilisa, but when I approached my brother about the children's rare disease in 2013, he said he knew Gogo Maphilisa, a traditional healer, and took me to her," she said. "She told us to bring the kids for two months, upon which they would be healed.
"When we got to Gogo Maphilisa's house in Mkoba 18 with the kids, she examined them and told us that she would need at least two months for them to heal. She indicated that she needed to admit them so that she monitors the healing and I had no choice, but to agree on that arrangement because my kids would not put on shoes owing to the problem.
"My brother, who is based in Gweru town, promised he would be visiting the boys every now and then to check on their recovery and would bring the boys back home once they are healed."
Ms Zimba said since 2013, she has not been allowed to see her children after Gogo Maphilisa changed goalposts, demanding that she be paid two beasts.
She recently decided to report the matter to police at Gweru Rural Police Station after attempts to have the two resolve their differences failed over the years.
"I have been patient trying to reason with her with my brother stopping me from going to the police to report the matter," said Ms Zimba.
"Every time I would visit Gogo Maphilisa at her house in Mkoba 18, I did not see my kids. I was later to be told she was hiding them somewhere in Shangani, that is when I got worried.
"My brother went to Shangani and met the kids. He insisted on reporting to the police as the last resort, saying the kids were in good health and he was negotiating with Gogo Maphilisa to release them. It did not happen."
Ms Zimba said she only reunited briefly with her kids last Friday at Gweru Rural Police Station when Gogo Maphilisa was summoned to the police station.
"Just imagine meeting your kids after four years at a police station?" she said. "It's very painful. "I, however, told the police not to detain Gogo Maphilisa because my kids are in good health and she is sending them to school."
Gogo Maphilisa, who claimed she stayed under water for four years from where she emerged with healing powers, said police at Gweru Rural arbitrated and that she was glad the kids' mother agreed to pay the beasts.
"The mother of the kids also agreed that I stay with the kids for a while as they look for a down payment in appreciation of what I did for them," she said.
The children confessed to The Herald that they were comfortable staying with the traditional healer than with their mother. "My mother went to every n'anga trying to make us heal, but we could not," said the elder boy.
"We only got healed when we came to Gogo, now I am healed, she also pays our school fees. We are now comfortable in the hands of Gogo."