The Sunday Mail
Eunice Charandura Mushakwe was just an ordinary girl growing up in the Zibagwe river escarpment of Chirimuhanzu communal lands, roughly 30km westwards of Mvuma Town, deep inside the Midlands province.
However, what has happened to her since then is extraordinary.
It is a story of mystique bordering on the paranormal.
Charandura claims to be possessed by the “eight spirits’’ of the indomitable Nehanda Nyakasikana, Zimbabwe’s spiritual heroine and a key leader in the First Chimurenga uprisings against colonial settlers in 1896-1897.
A demobilised war veteran, Mushakwe, who is 50 years old, occasionally slips into uneasy trances in which she traverses the world of meta-physics and reveals chilling accounts of the aftermath of Mbuya Nehanda’s execution at the hands of the invaders in April, 1898 following her capture on Baradzanwa Mountain in Chidamba village near present-day Christon Bank in December of the previous year.
She recounts those harrowing events of yore with such vividness and finesse, naming faraway places she has never been to in her physical life as some of the sites where “her” (Mbuya Nehanda’s) bones are interred.
The initially doubtful neighbours of Nyagari Village under Chief Chirimuhanzu are now convinced there is substance in her story.
It all seems like a perfect fulfilment of Mbuya Nehanda’s own iconic prophecy moments before her breath was taken away that her bones would rise. Indeed they seem to have!
For according to Dr Godfrey Mahachi, a prominent curator, the fate of Mbuya Nehanda’s bones after her brutal decapitation has never been conclusively proven.
“In the absence of a thorough historical inquiry and intensive archaeological investigations on the exact location of Mbuya Nehanda’s grave, all myths will remain open,’’ says Dr Mahachi, executive director of the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ).
“The only problem we run into is lack of primary records on these things. If anyone recorded the event, the record was not for public consumption. So nobody is too sure of what happened after the execution, for instance, the fate of the other 10 or so heroes like Kaguvi who were executed at the same time over a couple of days.’’
He continues: “After the death the issue was, how we dispose of the corpse? There was fear among the whites that Nehanda’s influence would not go away because of her death and that if her grave was made public it could become a shrine around which further resistance to colonialism would gain inspiration. Hence there was need for secret disposal.
“There has been a suggestion that it would have been impossible to travel far with the body because of the fighting that was still raging around the country. This theory therefore holds that her body could have been buried in the African section of the Pioneer Cemetery, adjacent to Mbare, and the grave left unmarked.’’
Mushakwe, now a grandmother, did just not just wake up one day and start hallucinating. Her diviner and spirit medium, Mbuya Hwesa Machena Manake Dlamini-Katerere, claims Nehanda’s oracle spirit tormented her mentally for a decade during which her husband deserted the house and her relatives yanked her to Madzibaba Nzira’s shrine in Chitungwiza where she sought treatment for over a year.
The late seer was, however, unable to exorcise what he diagnosed as avenging forces and Charandura returned to her rural home, a little worse in state than she had been before her forced departure. Varied prophets also battled to cast out the demons in Mushakwe but all left without success, until one unexpected day the forceful spirit wrenched itself open.
“She wandered towards the village headman’s compound and let out such loud wails that brought the whole house down making the headman almost tie her to a tree. But just then the oracle began to speak through her. This was the first time she had ever spoken out whether in flesh or in spirit because for all the previous years she had been conversing incoherently and in inaudible tones,’’ recalls Mbuya Dlamini-Katerere.
Mushakwe’s weird spell caused Headman Magogodla to assign local scribes to record all that the woman was saying. Word was also passed to the local traditional leadership who included Tino Majoni, the head of Chiwodza village, a nearby hamlet, and they gathered to see for themselves the bewildering apparition.
The unassuming woman proclaimed herself the incarnation of Mbuya Nehanda who lived between 1840-1898, and demanded that her bones be ‘repatriated from Britain’ where she claimed they had been shipped after her horrific execution at then Salisbury Prison (in buildings now occupied by Harare Central Police Station).
She also declared Mbuya Nehanda’s actual names as Charwe Mabasa, also called Manyakare before she was christened Nehanda Nyakasikana after the spirit formally descended on her. The respectful title of Mbuya was in later years prefixed to her already long list of names to accord her full dignity to future generations.
According to her spirit medium: “Ambuya can relate to her body having been cut into eight different pieces which were buried under churches, museum, government buildings and noble private dwellings in Britain. She can tell the execution order was given by King George the second.’’
Dr Mahachi again leaves a window of possibility.
“Clearly, dismembering the bodies of the victims was something that happened routinely during that period. We know several of the First Chimurenga heroes like Chinengundu from Mashayamombe and Chingaira from Makoni and several others that when they were captured or killed what would follow was beheading,’’ he says.
Only after making this astounding revelation did Eunice Charandura Mushakwe begin to stabilise mentally and miraculously recover. Dlamini-Keterere, however, says if the State fails to pay attention and act upon her disclosures, Charandura might slip back into her painful mental premonitions again which could have consequences for the entire nation.
“The State needs to brew beer urgently at (the current) Mbuya Nehanda’s homestead 67 in Nyagari Village, Mvuma, and celebrate her arrival. They must apologise to the spirits for having lost the cultural grip. The State needs to have an official reception of the spirit of Mbuya Nehanda so it can guide the country and the continent to normalcy,’’ she advises.
At present the community is feuding over the whereabouts of the documents containing Eunice Charandura Mushakwe’s visions. Mushakwe’s middle-aged daughters, Sophia and Opah, believe one Tapiwa Musindo of the neighbouring Uta village, who was among the scribes appointed by the headman to take down the notes, is still in possession of them.
The Sunday Mail could however not locate Musindo to hand over the documents for browsing if indeed he has them but there is also an allegation that Chief Chirimuhanzu and the Member-in Charge of Mvuma Police Station are privy to the happenings although are not willing to take the matter any further because of unknown reasons.
Although Mushakwe can hardly relive her trance in her normal appearance, she relayed to The Sunday Mail a life of constant spiritual possession. She even says she believes she was led to the war by the spirit of Mbuya Nehanda.
“At first the comrades came to our village and closed our primary school saying we would resume learning in a free Zimbabwe. Thereafter with other village girls we took turns to cook for them at night until one of their leaders mentioned to me I had the qualities of a guerilla and recommended that I leave for military training at Tembwe in Mozambique.
“A vision had already appeared to me while I was young that I would participate in the war but I survived death by a whisker on many instances during the war as the spirit kept guiding me. I was however tired of fighting so at independence I opted for “demob’’ and retired to farming. But I have continuously been affected by mental illness until I got help the day I fell into a trance at Makwiramiti Musindo’s homestead in Uta village,’’ said the pitiable Mushakwe, a gifted farmer who produced a strong hectare of maize last season that her family is surviving from.
Her diviner attests that Mbuya Nehanda has eight spiritual forms and they must all be invited to the welcome ceremony in Mvuma to be arranged by the State where all svikiros and prophets would also meet to discuss the issue in Mvuma and solve the mystery “which is a blessing to Zimbabwe and the world”.
“We are in the middle of a spiritual breakthrough and it’s time to focus on strong connection with our ancestry and origin so as to reach out to our loving creator who knows us from source. Lemon trees bear lemon fruits not oranges so let us be original and teach culture in schools, homes and churches for survival,” says Mbuya Dlamini-Katerere.
Meanwhile, Dr Mahachi has called for more research on the subject in order for Zimbabweans to get to the bottom of the matter.
“With research capacity and technologies that is under development proper investigations can yield the actual of location of Mbuya Nehanda’s remains. For example we are not sure how many have researched into the early records of the Pioneer Cemetery and that could be a starting point until sufficient information is generated on how Mbuya Nehanda’s torso was disposed of.’’