Cultural Panorama: By Blessing Mandabva
Armed robbery in criminal law is an aggravated form of theft that involves the use of a lethal weapon a victim typically motivated by the desire to obtain money.
Cases of armed robbery have reached an epidemic level in Zimbabwe. A thought-provoking topic of sangoma and witch doctor consultation has emerged as a cancer catapulting the rise of armed robbers.
Most of the offenders have acknowledged getting assistance from Sangomas or traditional healers who are believed have the powers of establishing causes of bad events and protecting people against evil.
A Chitungwiza ex-convict who did not want to be named, acknowledged he had a very strong belief in the use of juju.
“We travelled to Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania to get different opinions and confirmation for armed robbery tasks ahead of us,” said the former convict, now a born-again Christian.
“We used to go together as a gang or we send trusted representatives who will then come back to the group to provide feedback.”
There are prescribed rituals to exorcise evil spirits, for protection, bravery, instillation of fear, invisibility and invincibility, he says.
According to an Epworth self-styled Sangoma who also did not want to be named: “There is a fattish-looking concoction prepared from animal fat. This concoction is used to instil fear and once it is applied, armed response will think they are out numbered and will quickly surrender.“
“We also give some bracelets or a stick to put in the pocket, hand or under the tongue with powers to disappear quickly and unnoticed.”
According to the sangoma, before a court appearance, the alleged influence of the juju will either make the case docket disappear or ensure that the robber is not found guilty.
This charm is believed to give the offender some magical powers to charm the police or justice representatives so that they are acquitted without much questioning for the crimes.
In a recent statement following the death of Constable Gibson Tafara Madzimure after a shoot-out with armed robbers, national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said: “We will leave no stone unturned until all culprits involved in the death of Constable Gibson Tafara Madzimure are brought to book.”
The police spokesperson said they had intensified the war against armed robbers who have been targeting individuals and businesses around the country.
The police spokesperson did not deny nor confirm the influence of Sangomas on the rise of armed robber cases when Standard Style sought a comment from him.
“We are yet to receive reports of such cases happening under the dark world of Sangomas fortifying armed robbers to be invincible,” Nyathi said.
“We will be, therefore, grateful when you unravel such activities which will therefore help us deal with crime.”
In a case, which is before the courts, a Buhera traditional healer was arrested for providing shelter to a robber wanted in connection with a US$2,7 million heist.
It remains unclear whether it was shelter being provided or it was for cleansing and protection.
According to a repentant armed robber serving an eight-year sentence at Chikurubi Maximum Prison, there are also some rituals done to subdue reaction from members of the public, security guards, and the police.
“We were given a rope stuffed with powers to be tied around the waist which I think it had the same, effect as a bullet proof vest,” he said.
It is believed that when one is wearing that rope, those who open fire against them will either miss or the bullets will not penetrate the skin or cause any harm.
Police will either miss when they are shooting them or the bullets will not penetrate their bodies.
It is said that the charm they used came in the form of powder,ointment, liquid and objects. The powder may be scattered on the road or at the placewhere the crime would take place to mark the place, sprinkle at the entrance and mix with bath water to wash off bad luck.
The same water may also be used on the weapons and vehicles.
There is a common belief that people who trample on the juju such as bank employees, security, clients and the armed response as they enter the bank for example willbecome slow to react.
President of the Zimbabwe Traditional Healers Assocoation (Zinatha) George Kandiero acknowledged that consulting sangomas in Zimbabwe to seek fortunes was rampant.
He, however, could not rule out the possibilities of members of his association involved in aiding armed robbers.
To them they do not have a tracking system to check for unscrupulous traditional healers but they only licence them.
“We are a registered board tasked to register all traditional healers who might want to practice in Zimbabwe,” Kandiero said.
“We are like the Vehicle Inspection Department who licence drivers, but among the licenced drivers you might find bad drivers.”
Kandiero said the existence of Zinatha seeks to compliment government efforts to curb crime like armed robberies.
He said there were circumstances where traditional healers prescribe charms to members of the public basing on requests.
“When they visit our shrines, they do not mention what and how they intend to use the charm,” Kandiero said.
“Some have been asking for cleansing and to be successful in looking for money without mentioning how they are going to do it.
“In the end our members will agree and prescribe the remedy without knowing that it will be used in committing armed robberies.”
A repentant armed robber, who also did not want to be named subscribed to the notion that armed robbery rituals and charms cannot last long due to breaking oaths.
“Some oaths are too complicated, like denying your partner conjugal rights two days before a robbery and eating food without salt,” he said.
“Honestly you cannot keep on for many times hence we will be urged to sleep at one place a few days before the robbery.”
He also indicated that some of their victims could have also fortified their riches with charms for protection.
Sangomas can advise whether there is a snitch or oath breaking among the robbers.
United Methodist church pastor in charge of social justice under the General Board on Church and society Reverend John Makaniko said modern-day robberies can be slightly equated to raids carried out during the biblical times (Judges 6:3).
“From a supernatural perspective, robberies like any other human actions aren’t spared from spiritualism,” Reverend Makaniko said.
“Some perform rituals to use against their victims or to protect themselves from arrests.
“This is why some robbers dare to rob church sanctuaries because they feel secure with their charms though they ended up getting caught.“
Rev Makaniko added: “Lord Jesus Christ clearly spell out the intention of robberies that it’s to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).”
“Although, armed robberies are mostly viewed from physical viewpoint, spiritual influences shouldn’t be ruled out.
“Legal and security solutions should be explored and above all divine intervention is a necessity as Psalm 127:1b says, ‘Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good’.
“Stealing church properties or anything that belongs to church will bring curses and it will end in tears like the story of Judas Iscariot.”