FRANCIS Pfumbidza (39) left his home in Jeche village in Buhera and headed for Tiemba village under Chief Neshangwe in the neighbouring Chivhu district.
He had followed his family to reunite with his erstwhile wife and their two children.
A year earlier, his wife, Maud Dzvuke (30), had left with the children after he was afflicted with a mental sickness.
So last Sunday, with a wheelbarrow containing two buckets of tomatoes for sale to fend for his children, Pfumbidza arrived at his in-laws’ homestead in Ward 26, Chikomba District, only to learn that his wife had become a “prophetess”.
He expected a warm welcome from her.
But the soft-spoken Pfumbidza was to be in for the shock of his life. Little did he know he had come to wave goodbye to his two children as it was the last time he would see them.
Two days later, his wife was to be arrested in connection with a case where six of the eight children who participated in a baptism ceremony she conducted had died.
Among the dead were two of his children with Maud.
“I am still confused. The whole incident is scary and I cannot bear it. I have lost children and my wife is in police hands over the tragedy,” Pfumbidza told NewsDay Weekender a day after the tragedy, which struck on Tuesday.
He still bears wounds on his forehead from the burns he said he sustained when Maud scalded him with charcoal as she tried to “exorcise” the demons she said were responsible for his ailment.
On the fateful day, Maud locked her husband inside the house before taking the children to Mutorahuku stream for the morning baptism ceremony, popularly known as Jorodhani by apostolic sects.
A member of the Johane Masowe Yechishanu apostolic sect, Maud had a shrine at the Dzvuke homestead.
“Maud locked me inside the house when she took the children to the stream. But before that, I peeped through the window and realised that there was a scuffle between her and another prophet who had visited the homestead. The argument was so heated to the extent that Maud broke the two clay pots at her shrine. She left for the river in a rage,” Pfumbidza recalled.
A sombre atmosphere engulfed Tiemba village on Wednesday as villagers were yet to come to terms with the deaths of the six children.
Maud lost her own two children Shamiso (4) and Patience (9), while her brother Trymore Dzvuke lost two children, Tafadzwa (5) and Tinotenda (3).
Another brother, Onwell Dzvuke (36), lost a child, Emmanuel, while the accused’s sister, Naume, who was also at the baptism ceremony, lost a child, Blessed (4).
The accused person, together with her sister-in-law Jane Taruvinga, were arrested in Buhera after fleeing from the scene.
Tafadzwa Kondo (17), who witnessed the incident, told this paper that Maud and Taruvinga behaved like possessed people during the ceremony.
Kondo, a Form 4 pupil at Chimowa Secondary School in Chikomba, was also baptised on the same day and managed to rescue one of the children who had taken part in the ceremony.
“Madzimai Maud took us to the stream early in the morning for the baptism ceremony. Since I wanted to go to school, I was baptised first,” he recalled.
“After coming out of the water, Madzimai Maud began hitting me with wet sand. She then baptised another child who then began frothing. I took the child home against Maud’s wish and had to cook porridge for her (the child). She came back to life.
“I realised that there was danger and went on to unlock the door of the house in which Pfumbidza was. We both went to the stream and upon arrival, I was shocked to see two bodies floating in the stream.
“At this time, Maud and Taruvinga were in the stream holding hands praying and singing Hosannah.”
When he told them that the children had died, he said Maud started behaving like a possessed woman and claimed she had eaten the children.
“I later discovered that the other children were under the water. With the help of Pfumbidza, we ferried the children home and placed them at the shrine,” Kondo, who looked terrified by the incident, recollected.
“Maud and Taruvinga followed us and upon arrival, Maud saw the bodies scattered at the shrine and threatened to kill herself. She told us to sing Hosannah so that the children will wake up, but nothing happened.”
He said Maud and Taruvinga then fled from the village. A report was later made to the police who attended the scene and ferried the bodies to the mortuary.
“My wife died recently and left two of my children in Maud’s custody. I only got a phone call in Harare that one of the children had died during the ceremony. I am devastated. I cannot believe it,” Onwell said.
The pool stream that claimed the children’s lives was shallow — measuring just 60cm deep.
Villagers were still speculating whether the children died of coldness, while others attributed the tragedy to evil spirits haunting the Dzvuke family.
There were also claims the children could have been killed by a mermaid.
Another sect member only identified as Virginia, who attended the funeral, said Maud violated the rules governing the sect as it does not believe in baptism.
Acting village head, Davison Maravanyika (78), said he had never seen such a tragedy.
“This is too much for me. I was shocked to see lifeless bodies of young souls scattered all over the shrine. The whole village is troubled. We need to know the real cause of this. As for now, we are all confused,” he said.
Ward 26 councillor Roselyn Mudzviti appealed to government and the police to tighten screws on illegal traditional and faith healers.
Meanwhile, hunger is wreaking havoc in the Chikomba area popularly known as Kunjanja.
At the Dzvuke homestead, it was a sorry sight as the family admitted they had no money to buy food and coffins for the funeral, among other issues.
However, the area’s representative in Parliament, Edgar Mbwembwe, donated six bags of maize on Wednesday to assist with the procession.
For now, Pfumbidza is a dejected man as two days after the incident, none of his family members had travelled to Chivhu.
The tomatoes he had brought were no longer for raising money for his children, but for use during the funeral.