A team of law enforcement agents has been dispatched in the country’s 10 provinces to curb the fraudulent operations of self-proclaimed witch hunters (tsikamutandas), a senior police official has said.

The decision came after last week’s cabinet pronouncement that the tsikamutandas are not licensed by Government to conduct such ‘criminal, fraudulent and extortionist activities’.

Self-styled prophets are reported to be on the rampage in rural areas where they are extorting unsuspecting villagers of their valued stock as payment for cleansing ceremonies in their homes.

Last Tuesday, Chief Police spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner, Charity Charamba confirmed that law enforcement agents had been posted to various rural areas to curb the vice.

“It is now business unusual, we are arresting those fraudsters, villagers should come and report without fear.

“Anti-stock theft police have been dispatched in rural areas and I can confirm that they have already commenced their operations. Anyone who lost his or her livestock to these criminals should report to the police immediately,” said Snr Ass Comm Charamba.

She however highlighted that there are no arrests that have been made as yet, adding that traditional leaders, police and district administrators have no mandate to issue the fraudsters with clearance letters to practise in any area.

“The practices of tsikamutandas are illegal and nobody should be coerced into taking part. All tsikamutandas’ activities are day light extortion and stock theft, which need to be exposed.

“The public needs to be made aware of their rights to refuse to partake in the cleansing ceremonies. Most traditional leaders have been informed that by forcing people to participate, they are robbing them of their rights and breaking the law as well,” she said.

The Sunday Mail Religion has it on good authority that most of the unscrupulous witch hunters would have been given the green light by village heads and chiefs to conduct the ceremonies.

Some, to authenticate their claims, are reportedly alleging that they have been cleared by the President’s Office. Areas that are reported to have been highly infiltrated by tsikamutandas include Mt Darwin, Gokwe, Chiredzi, Nyanga, Zaka, Wedza.

It is a punishable offense to employ a witch hunter under the Witchcraft Suppression Act Chapter 9:19.

Section 5 states that; “Any person who employs or solicits any other person (a) to name or indicate any other person as a wizard or witch; or (b) to name or indicate by means of witchcraft or by application of any of the tests mentioned in the paragraph (b) of section eight or by the use of any non-natural means any person as the perpetrator of any alleged crime or other act complained of or (c) to advise him or any other person how, by means of witchcraft or by any non-natural means whatsoever, the perpetrator of any alleged or other act complained of may be discovered; shall be guilty of any offence and liable to a fine not exceeding fifty dollars or, in default of payment to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months.”

In May this year, The Sunday Mail Religion traced one tsikamutanda –Philip Zizhou – who had unleashed a reign of terror in Mt Darwin where villagers were allegedly forced to attend his cleansing ceremonies. A herd of 195 cattle was extorted over a period of two months.

In an interview with The Sunday Mail Religion in Mt Darwin, Chief Mutumba (Mr Mandaza Marufu) confirmed that witch hunters had become a menace in the three villages that are under his watch.

“I know that tsikamutanda is operating in my area. He came to see me and I gave him the go-ahead. After meeting him I gathered all headmen and warned them that people should not be forced to consult him. I want to believe that they are doing just that,” he said at the time.

“Again, I told the villagers either to visit me or the police when they encounter problems. No one has approached me to complain, an indication that everyone in the village is happy with what is happening.”

Headman Chikoto (Mr Moses Chikoto) defended the witch hunter.

“To tell you the truth the witch hunter is doing a great job. He is not forcing anyone, I am the headman of this area and I can confirm that,” he said.

He went on to rubbish claims that he was working in cahoots with the tsikamutanda.

“How can people say that we are working with him when we also gave him something when he cleansed us?”

President of the Chiefs’ Council, Chief Fortune Charumbira said it is a crime to dispossess anyone’s property in partnership with the tsikamutandas.

“As the chief council we rally behind Government’s decision of arresting these criminals and their syndicates. Recently, we conducted several meetings with chiefs and we all agreed to partner Government in bringing these people to book,” Chief Charumbira said.

Commenting on allegations that some chiefs and headmen are working in cahoots with witch hunters, Chief Charumbira said those who will be caught on the wrong side of the law will be prosecuted.

“That is what we call abuse of power and if there are chiefs who are doing it I urge them to repent without delay, chiefs should protect people.

“They should not infringe people’s constitutional rights. Section 53 of the new constitution says, ‘No person may be subject to physical or psychological torture or to cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” he said.

Traditional Medical Practitioners Council board chairman, Sekuru Friday Chisanyu commended Government’s decision on uprooting dubious witch hunters.

Sekuru Chisanyu said the Government created Chapter 27:14 in 1981, paving way for traditional medical practitioners associations to regulate the practice of traditional medicine.

He said this was to qualify practitioners who are legally registered and licensed to practice under traditional healers, herbalists, faith healers and traditional born setters.

“Witch-hunters are killing the family support system of many rural folks, because after losing their wealth, families lose their source of income. Everything is being lost to these witch-hunters,” Sekuru Chisanyu said.

He added that arresting these criminals will help in protecting the positive identity of traditional practices in the country.