Faith in traditional healers still strong

Freedom Mupanedemo Review Correspondent
On the surface Pentecostal churches headed by charismatic leaders claiming prophetic powers seem to have become the most popular option for those who believe in spiritual solutions for earthly challenges. And that would appear to be many Zimbabweans with no distinction of class, age, sex, social or economic standing.

But scratch beneath the surface and you will find that faith in the power of traditional healers who are condemned as heathen and evil by the Bible and other religions still remains strong. One such healer pulling crowds to rival those of the most vibrant prophets is in Domboshava, a peri-urban settlement about 30 kilometres out of Harare. Judging from the high numbers of people trekking to the mountain top, the spirit medium has surely become a traditional “messiah” for many. He claims that the rich, poor, Government ministers, diplomats and foreigners have sought his help with some of them making repeat visits.

People wait to consult Sekuru Hungwe in Domboshava recently

People wait to consult Sekuru Hungwe in Domboshava recently

At short intervals, commuter omnibuses full of passengers, the majority of them on their way to Sekuru Hungwe, offload passengers at Domboshava Business Centre, known as paShowground. Once there getting directions to the shrine is a breeze. After a three-kilometre drive along the Domboshava-Bindura highway, one turns into a dusty road where several cars make a bee-line towards the mountain.

The motorists pass several groups of pedestrians headed for the same destination – the shrine of Joseph Chuma (30) – on a mountain top just opposite Domboshava Mountain. The pedestrians are usually eager family members excitedly looking forward to the prospects of meeting Sekuru Hungwe. Contrary to the perception of traditional healers being mostly illiterate bumpkins, Chuma abandoned a conventional marketing career to become a spirit medium-cum-traditional healer.

From a distance, one can pick the reverberating sound of a big drum blending well with another seemingly smaller one with the infusion of percussion instruments supported by human chants. That means Sekuru Hungwe is already in session! Ten metres away from the shrine, a marshal can be heard barking some instructions.

“Bisai shangu kana muchida kuona Sekuru. Wese akapfeka zvitsvuku ngaabvise, ringava pant bvisa sekuru havadi zvitsvuku” (Remove your shoes and anything red you might be putting on even if it’s an under garment, Sekuru doesn’t want red garments). Everyone sits on a flat rock surface joining tens of others awaiting their turn to enter a circular stone structure, the spirit medium’s shrine. In the shrine, two apparently entranced male youths beating drums are joined by a third on percussion.

Sekuru Hungwe, his wife Shingirai Mapurisa and their child

Sekuru Hungwe, his wife Shingirai Mapurisa and their child

The fourth and oldest seats on a boulder, his nimble fingers kissing the mbira to make a full orchestra. Women in long black, grey and green robes are engrossed in song and dance, their faces soaked in sweat but untiring. At the centre of the shrine is a thatched hut where Sekuru Hungwe, clad in traditional regalia, is seated. On this day, Sekuru Hungwe, bellows in a deep baritone voice, giving instructions to his aides.

“Madzimai vaya vakashanya ngavabude muno. Ndirikuona pane vakashanya ngavamboduda panze (Women undergoing their monthlies must leave the shrine).” A few women, visibly ashamed, as if their condition was an evil curse, get up and slouch out of the shrine. This marks the beginning of Sekuru Hungwe’s prophetic sessions. A quick headcount puts the numbers in the shrine at about 100 faces filled with depression, pronouncing the magnitude of the problems that have brought them before their “messiah”.

In the thatched hut Sekuru Hungwe groans, sneezes, groans again and shakes his head. Suddenly he rises off his stool and beckons at four elderly men from the crowd, inviting them into the hut. As soon as they enter the hut he shouts out their totems one by one while they all agree that indeed the spirit medium was spot on.

“Saka chakuunzai pano Madyirapanze chii? (What has brought you here?). One frail looking old man narrates his ordeal but with the noise from the drums, the singing and dancing one cannot pick what the old man has said. Inside the shrine, the atmosphere remains rather tense. Some people fall into trances, rolling on the floor at times hitting their bodies against boulders but without exhibiting any signs of pain.

After a 10-minute interaction with the spirit medium, the “clients” are each given some snuff and the only “medicine” they will get in the five stages of the cleansing process. One can request a private session with the healer. At times sessions can last up to or even beyond midnight depending on the number of “patients” at the shrine. But how did Sekuru Hungwe swap his university gown for a traditional robe?

At 12-years-old, the Gokwe-born boy had strange dreams that would leave him wide awake as soon as a stranger entered their homestead during the night. At school he was very bright but often fell into trances and would be sent back home. “At the hospital doctors and nurses would soon discharge me after failing to diagnose any illness.”

Sekuru Hungwe came to Harare after completing his primary education. “I was being forced to go to school but deep down my heart, I could feel that this was not my destiny,” he said. “I applied for a place to study Local Governance at Midlands State University after scoring 13 points at A-Level but I was rejected. “My parents knew that I was not taking this education thing seriously so they were bitter and thought I had not applied to the university.”

Sekuru Hungwe then enrolled for a marketing degree programme with the National University of Science and Technology. He graduated in 2012. “Again it was a struggle to complete the degree programme as at times, I would fall into a trance while in a lecture room.” This strange behaviour which he could not control did nothing to earn him friends at college.

Sekuru Hungwe said after completing his study programme he decided to hang his gown for the traditional garb. The spirit that possessed Sekuru Hungwe led him to the mountain in Domboshava where he has been camped since 2013. “I will be on this mountain as long as the spirit allows me. If it directs me elsewhere, I will leave and do as the spirit says,” he said. Married with one child – a one-year-old girl born at the shrine – Sekuru Hungwe lives in a makeshift home with his family.