Ritual killers on the loose, terror in the Eastern Highlands

size_mukumbiraMUTARE - While most parts of the country enjoy relative peace and hear of ritual killings only through folk stories and African movies, people in the Eastern Highlands, stretching for some 105 kilometers from as far as Hauna Business Center, to the border with Mozambique, have been living in constant fear of ritual killers,

Countries in the region and the world at large dismiss ritual practices as primitive, practiced by cannibals for no tangible benefit.

Ritual killers have claimed three lives recently, two people narrowly escaped death and an adult male went missing and is feared dead.

Villagers at Hauna claim that on Christmas day, an elderly woman was found dead along Pfungwe river in Sagambe. Her private parts, tongue, part of her hair and the lower lip were missing. A suspect was arrested by police but later took his own life in police custody. He used cell blankets to hang himself.

A police officer at Hauna police station could neither confirm nor deny the superstition killing motive. He said the killing spree was a complicated issue.

One of the lucky survivors, Size Mukumbira (52), an electrician at the Eastern Hughlands Wamba Tea Plantations, lived to tell his dramatic escape. The experience left him traumatized. This is his story:

Mukumbiras story

It was one afternoon in September last year, when I hitchhiked a lift at Hauna Business Center, to my home at Samaringa village. Since there was a woman passenger in the front seat of a twin cab truck, nothing suggested the occupants could be ritual killers. I took a back seat with four other men who looked friendly and innocent.

When the truck reached Gatsi village, I asked the driver to drop me since that was our bus stop. The driver suggested we proceed to the next village and would be dropped on their way back since they urgently wanted to see a colleague. I protested but the driver did not heed my pleas.

Just after crossing Mutarazi river, men in the back seat suddenly masked my face with a black cloth. Other clothes were stuffed in my mouth to frustrate any efforts to shout for help. My hands and legs were tied with tight ropes. I felt the truck stopping.

A faint female voice instructed my abductors to speed up the killing. Cut off the head in one swoop. I must be in Mutare before 8pm. Remember, I must be on the train to Harare tonight, the voice ordered.

While pinned to the ground, I felt cold metal pressed to my neck and realized I was about to be beheaded. There was a sudden heavy sound reverberating through the ground. The grip on my body eased and my captors fled for safety. The sounds were from a herd of cattle coming our direction.

On seeing my body tied and face blindfolded with a black cloth, younger herd boys fled while the older came closer to investigate. They had seen the twin cab truck speeding off and realized I was a victim of abduction. After searching the surrounding ground, they recovered a butcher knife, which they used to cut the ropes restricting me.

A moment later, policemen on foot patrol arrived at the scene. I explained my ordeal but could not give the number plates of the truck. They helped me home and later a docket was opened.

Schoolboy drugged

Towards end of last year, a grade one schoolboy at Eastern Highlands section 6 primary school also narrowly escaped a ritual killing. Tinashe Sapuranga (8), was abducted by a local plantations worker, Thomas Maphosa, while on his way from a night film show.

Maphosa offered the boy brown sugar mixed with sleeping tablets. The unsuspecting boy took the mixture and fell into a deep sleep. Maphosa wrapped him in a reed mat and hid him at an absent neighbours house.

When Tinashes parents could not locate him, they became suspicious and raised the alarm. A door-to-door search was conducted.

We earnestly searched the compound until we found his unconscious body in one of the houses. When Tinashe gained consciousness, he narrated his ordeal and identified his captor as Maphosa, who was later handed over to the police. Police investigations sucked in a local businessman, Abednico Chikamba, and his manager, Farai Mukwezhe, among the suspects. Ruda police station confirmed the incident. The court case is still in progress at Mutare Magistrates Court.

Zakaria still missing

An employee at the tea estates, Thomas Zakaria, went missing on 4 February 2005 and his whereabouts remain a mystery. He was a close friend of Maphosas. Extensive searches of the surrounding area have proved fruitless.

On the day of his disappearance, we found prepared sadza (thick porridge) and roasted meat in his kitchen, suggesting he had prepared for work the following morning. Throughout his five years service, Zakaria had never been absent from work without seeking permission. Unidentified people later placed anonymous letters at the company administration offices and along the roads, suggesting Maphosa had played a role in the disappearance of Zakaria.

People linked Maphosa to the ritual killings as he always received groceries from the businessman, Chikamba. Ruda police investigated the case but nothing came of it. At a meeting with the police, workers and other interested people accused the police of accepting bribes to down play cases involving business people practicing ritual killings, said an employee at the tea estates.

Other victims

At nearby Murara Business Center, a businessman identified as Mareya allegedly killed Caleb Nyakunhuwa, in another ritual killing case. Police confirmed the incident.

Paul Nyakomba, was found dead in Chief Tangwenas area. His head was cut open and some body parts were missing, suggesting he had been killed for ritual purposes. Superstitious business people use human organs mixed with herbs as muti (charm), to boost their business enterprises.

Among early victims of the serial killings, was an elderly unidentified woman. She went missing on 29 July 2000 from her home in the area. Her torso was spotted by Cleopas Samunderu near Wamba Tea Factory three weeks later. Her head was missing and a hat she usually wore was placed by the neck. Eye witnesses said the body had not decomposed and looked like it had just been taken out of a cold room. An unidentified truck was seen moving near the place where the torso was discovered.

The woman was last seen alive when she left for a church service at Sagambe. She had hitchhiked a lift in a strangers truck to Sagambe where members of Jehovahs Witness Apostolic Sect were gathering for prayers.

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