BULAWAYO ― A fresh uproar over the ‘sacred’ Njelele shrine in Matabeleland South province has re-surfaced with a group of spirit mediums and war veterans deciding to conduct their rituals at the place of pilgrimage while also celebrating ZANU-PF’s victory in the July 31 polls.
The move is strongly opposed by the Matabeleland traditional leadership.
In August last year, the same group, made up of about 600 members, caused a stir when it sneaked into Matobo District where the Njelele shrine is located, and conducted some rituals without the knowledge and approval of the traditional leaders in the province.
Their behaviour was roundly condemned by chiefs, war veterans’ leaders, the government and villagers who accused them of disrespect and disturbing peace in the region.
The traditional leadership had to later organise a cleansing ceremony at the shrine after the group’s unsanctioned visit in a bid to appease the ancestors.
Last month, the group, which calls itself the National Traditional Inheritance Kingdom, Chieftainships and the Governance of Zimbabwe, wrote a letter to chiefs in Matabeleland South, informing them about its intended visit to the Njelele shrine.
The chiefs immediately expressed displeasure over the issue and accused the group of wanting to “open old wounds”. They said the group had in the past shown disrespect to the local traditional leadership.
In the letter seen by the Financial Gazette, the group’s spokesperson, Joshua Kativhu invited all chiefs from Matabeleland region, war veterans, service chiefs, media organisations and government officials to attend a traditional congratulatory ceremony in Matobo on September 27.
“The event is for all departments of different ministries, which have got something to do in Zimbabwe, especially Ministries of Defence, Home Affairs, Local Government and State Security,” said Kativhu in the letter.
He also explained that as part of the ceremony, they would also analyse and understand the country’s ideologies to establish what was not fulfilled when the country attained independence in 1980 and chat the way forward.
Chief Mathema of Gwanda and Malaba and Masuku of Matobo condemned the intended visit, which they said had the potential of fuelling conflict like last year and called for the investigation into the motive behind the ‘uncalled for’ pilgrimage.
It was on September 24, just three days before the intended visit that Matabeleland South chiefs, who convened an extraordinary meeting, resolved that the group of spirit mediums and war veterans be blocked from visiting the shrine.
The traditional leaders, war veterans, 16 village heads from Matobo District and representatives of different cultural groups from Matabeleland region met at Chief Malaki Masuku’s homestead, under whose jurisdiction the Njelele shrine lies and resolved that the police should stop the group from visiting the shrine.
In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, the traditional leaders accused the group of disrespect and violating the procedures that should be followed when visiting Njelele.
“We are against this planned visit as it compromises our cultural values. We have resolved to write a letter to the officer commanding police in the province asking him to stop this group from visiting the shrine,” read the statement.
“No cleansing rituals are allowed at this time of the year at Njelele and these people should not come here and tell us what to do,” said the chiefs.
According to the shrine’s custodian Solifa Ncube, also known as Khulu Thobela, people are only allowed to go to the Njelele rock for traditional rituals under the guidance of traditionalists who are its custodians between March and September 29 yearly.
The shrine remains closed for the rest of the year for cleansing.
In August, many people from different parts of the country usually visit the Njelele for the rain-making ceremonies.
Community elders today still go to the shrine to report all problems bedevilling villagers such as droughts, lightning bolts or diseases. They also visit Njelele to apologise for the society’s misdemeanours and other related issues.
It is said there used to be a voice coming out of the Njelele rock whenever spirit mediums went to present their concerns at the shrine.
However, that voice has since fallen silent and the place is now quiet.
War veterans in Matabeleland have also disowned the Kativhu-led group saying former freedom fighters were not associated with such activities.
However, Kativhu last week, following their failed visit to Njelele said they would not force their way into the shrine and had resolved to make fresh engagements with the government, arguing their visit was cultural and had nothing to do with politics.
This week he told the Financial Gazette, they had begun engagements with the Ministry of Local Government in Harare and looked forward to proceeding to Njelele tomorrow (Friday) if cleared.
However, that would be too late since the shrine is already closed for cleansing.
Saul Gwakuba-Ndlovu, a culturalist and retired journalist, said the group should instead have written a letter to the shrine keeper requesting to visit the place and asking for a date while explaining their intention instead of “inviting themselves”.
He said it was, however, unfortunate that the shrine could be closed now and the group would only have a chance to visit in March next year.
The group last year, brought bones, stones and soil from the ZIPRA camps in Zambia which they dumped in the Matopos National Park, claiming they represented the remains of the fallen freedom fighters.
Cont Mhlanga, another cultural commentator in Bulawayo has said the Council of Chiefs has failed to protect the shrine.
“Fortune Charumbira (president of the Council of Chiefs) and his council are just sleeping on duty, because the Njelele issue is not new and should have been addressed long back,” said Mhlanga after last year’s invasion of the shrine.
“The invaders are not to blame, but the chiefs who have failed to formally invite them to the shrine for a cleansing ceremony are to blame. Some of the (so-called) invaders participated in the liberation struggle.”
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