Villagers in Muriwo communal area near Mupatsi in Mashonaland East Province collectively shoulder the blame for not reining in Maud Dzvuke’s weird activities which bore signs of a tragic end. The villagers gave chilling accounts of how the Dzvuke homestead was literary turned into an “impassable zone” as

visitors or passers-by were constantly subjected to unsolicited exorcism by the self-styled prophetess Maud. Prior to the tragic death of the six minors, five of whom were under Maud’s care, the infamous “prophetess” had been banished from Johanne Masowe eChishanu apostolic sect for masquerading as a prophetess when church elders insisted that she was a mere oneirocritic.

Irked by the elders’ rebuffing of her prophetic powers, Maud hatched a plan to form her own sect and immediately found willing recruits in her brother’s wife (sister-in-law) Jane Ruvinga, a single male neighbour Tony Kondo and all the minors under her custody.

Maud’s scheme to break away from Johanne Masowe eChishanu initially flourished as the Dzvuke homestead immediately became a hive of activity as people from faraway places thronged the home in need of spiritual help for all manner of illnesses.

Tony and Jane Ruvinga, also known as Mai Tafadzwa, became her trusted lieutenants as they embarked on a “spiritual escapade”, hunting for evil spirits said to have been tormenting the Dzvuke and other neighbouring families.

It was not long before the trio’s activities raised the ire of other villagers,who voiced their concern to headman William Tiyamba.

However, headman Tiyamba, whose home is a stone-throw away from the Dzvuke homestead, said it was difficult to decisively deal with Maud as others also claimed to have been spiritually assisted by her.

“The problem was that there were conflicting reports. Others said they had been helped while others said her activities were suspicious.

“However, with hindsight I feel we could have reined in her activities given that she had about eight children under her direct custody,” said headman Tiyamba.

Councillor for Ward 26 for Chikomba Rural District Council, Roslyn Mudzviti said both religious and traditional leaders must take the blame for the senseless loss of innocent young lives as they failed to raise alarm after noticing Maud’s weird activities.

“In my view, the death of these minors could have been avoided. After being banished from Johanne Masowe eChishanu, Maud is said to have started behaving in a strange way, claiming that she could heal all ailments.

“Out of desperation, some people used to throng the Dzvuke homestead for help. Although close relatives remained sceptical of her new-found healing powers, none could gather courage to confront her as she was given to sudden bouts of violent behaviour,” said Clr Mudzviti.

Clr Mudzviti said Maud was known in the Johanne Masowe eChishanu sect as an interpreter of dreams and not a prophet.

She said Maud, who had separated with her husband, used to take care of eight children, some from her brother Onwell, who had lost his wife just a month prior to the tragedy.

Clr Mudzviti led The Herald to the homestead of Naome Dzvuke, who lost a child barely a year old through the “baptism from hell”.

Naome is the elder sister to Maud and is married to Basil Muvadi, whose homestead is about eight kilometres from Muriwo Village.

Narrating her ordeal, Naome, who was visibly in pain from wounds allegedly inflicted by Maud, said her young sister started claiming being a prophetess after returning from Buhera, where she was staying with her husband Francis Pfumbidza.

“We knew she was a member of Johanne Masowe eChishanu but we didn’t know she was a prophetess.

“After she left her husband, who at the time was suffering from a mental illness, Maud started claiming having powers to exorcise evil spirits. I am told she had actually left Johanne Masowe eChishanu and was in the process of forming her own sect,” said Naome.

Naome said at first her claims were not taken seriously, but villagers soon became unsettled as villagers from faraway places started trooping in for help.

“Two days before the death of my child, Maud came here and took my child. I was tending vegetables in the garden and when I got back home I was told that Maud had taken the child. I immediately followed her to Sengwe, where I found her praying for the child. I requested that she surrenders the child to me but she refused, insisting that I and the child needed to be exorcised of evil spirits.

“I became powerless as she threatened to assault me. In fact, after a while she started assaulting me including biting my back,” said Naome, struggling to contain both the physical and emotional pain of losing her child.

She said the two days that she stayed at her parents’ home were unbearable as Maud, together with her two lieutenants instructed all the children to go on one-week fasting and prevented them from going to school.

Her arrival at the Dzvuke home coincided with the arrival of Francis Pfumbidza, Maud’s husband, who had travelled close to 16km on foot from Buhera with a wheelbarrow full of tomatoes that he wanted to sell in order to buy shoes for his children.

Upon arrival, Francis was immediately apprehended by Tony at the instigation of Maud and literally quarantined in one of the rondavels, which was locked from outside.

In a spiritual trance, Maud had instructed that Francis be locked away as he was the bearer of evil spirits.

His tomatoes were also placed on the nearby holy shrine to exorcise them of bad spirits. The night before the baptism was characterised by a lot of singing and chanting by Maud and his two lieutenants while all the children were told to prepare for a new life the following day.

The trio is said to have spent the night singing, dancing and running around the whole, compound pegging out sites believed to be inhabited by evil spirits.

Early the following day, Tony is said have woken up everyone but Francis remained locked in a secluded rondavel.

Naome said it was around 5am when they all trooped to the nearby Mutorahuku stream.

She said Tony was the first to get into the shallow dirty stagnant whitish pool, which derived its colour probably due to detergents used for washing laundry.

According to Naome, the morning was so cold that everyone including Maud was shivering. She was forced to enter the pool, slightly knee-high, together with her sister-in law. Naome said she was forced to dip her head 12 times into the dirty water while Maud, her sister-in-law and Tony, took turns to “baptise” the children.

“Everything became so blurred. I was in confusion. Each time I raised my head to see what was happening, Maud would threaten me with death. She instructed me to dip my head in the water 12 times and never to look at what she was doing as the evil spirits will remain stubborn.

At that time I was not aware of my baby’s whereabouts. It was after sometime that I realised that all the baptised children were lying on the riverbed motionless. I rushed to check on my baby and realised that although she was still warm she seemed to have stopped breathing.

I started crying and Maud threatened me to stop crying as the children were merely sleeping. She instructed me to carry my baby back to the house,” said Naome.

Naome said her sister instructed everyone to sing “Hosanna” to wake the children up as they were merely sleeping. After about 30 minutes, the gory reality of what had happened struck Maud and Jane, who immediately ran into the thicket with Tony in hot pursuit but failed to catch up with the two.

Naome’s husband, Basil Muvadi was beyond words to express his grief in losing his last child, who was barely a year old.

“After realising that my wife had failed to return from my in-laws, I followed her and what confronted me there was the stuff for horror movies. Six children were lying lifeless at the so-called holy shrine, including Blessing,” said Muvadi.

Muvadi attributed the tragedy to evil spirits that he said seem to torment the Dzvuke family.

He said not long ago, his wife’s uncle committed suicide

through hanging himself at the family home and it seems that the spirit is still to be exorcised.

The grief-stricken Muvadi called for strict measures to be taken against unregistered apostolic churches, including those who claim to be prophets or prophetesses.

As Muvadi was narrating his ordeal to The Herald two days after burying his child, four plain clothes police officers from Sadza Growth Point arrived at the homestead and requested that Naome accompany them to the Dzvuke homestead and also to Mutorahuku stream and try to re-enact events of the fateful Monday morning.

At the Dzvuke homestead, The Herald met with Onwell Dzvuke, the eldest in the Dzvuke family, who also lost two kids during the baptism. Sergeant Nicks was distraught after finding out that two key witnesses, Tadiwa Dzvuke (12) and Chido, who survived the baptism ritual had left Tiyemba Village.

Chido was said to have been taken by her maternal grandmother to Mhondoro, while Tadiwa was also taken away by another relative to Harare.

Sergeant Nicks then gave an instruction to Onwell Dzvuke that the two must present themselves to the police station in the shortest time possible. Thereafter, directed Naome to lead the way to the Mutorahuku stream, where she narrated events of the fateful day to Sergeant Nicks from Sadza Police Station.

After the visit to Mutorahuku stream, Onwell told The Herald that there were tell-tale signs that her sister was not emotionally stable when he last visited her a month before the tragedy.

“She was the one taking care of my children after the death of my wife. I work in Harare. I could tell that my sister was no longer herself when I visited our home to check on the children. However, I never thought it would come to this. My view is that this is the work of the devil, my sister was possessed. It’s beyond imagination how people in their normal sense would consent to baptising children in this chilly weather so early in the morning,” said the distraught Onwell.

Another Dzvuke family member, Mr Trymore Dzvuke (30), who lost his only two children, Tafadzwa (6) and Tinotenda (4) and whose wife Jane was an accomplice in the baptism, also attributed the tragedy to an avenging spirit- ngozi.

“This is clear ngozi my brother. Babamudiki died a few years ago. He hanged himself and no one knows the reason why he decided to take his life and now we have four members of the Dzvuke family who represented the future dying. I have no other explanation but to say this is the work of the devil,” said Trymore.

He said his wife seemed to have also lost her marbles as she was not aware that her kids had died when she was whisked away by police.

“I asked her of the whereabouts of the children and she said they were at home. It is really sad and I just don’t know what to do now. Those kids were my family; they meant everything to me,” Trymore said amid sobs.

From Sengwe, The Herald tracked Francis Pfumbidza to Pfumbidza Village in Buhera, just after Gandachibvuva Mission Hospital.

Pfumbidza, who lost two children — Patience (9) and Sharmaine (4) is said to have carried the bodies of the two in a scotchcart some 16km away for burial in his village with Mercy Pfumbidza (3) in tow.

Mercy is Francis’ third child and is one of the three survivors, who recovered after being rushed to Sadza Hospital.

Mourners were still gathered at the Pfumbidza home commiserating with Francis when The Herald arrived at the home, a day after the burial of the two children. Francis was seated with his father at a veranda of the only corrugated house at the homestead.

A few minutes into our conversation about the deaths of his children, it became apparent that either Francis was still traumatised by the loss of his children or the residual effects of his days at Ngomahuru Psychiatric Hospital in Masvingo were still taking a toll on him as he could not stitch a coherent narrative of what transpired on the day his two children lost their lives. Instead, Francis seemed to blame himself for the tragedy.

“I think I am the one who carried the evil spirits from here and those spirits then possessed my wife,” Francis said as he tried to recount events of the fateful morning.

Francis had visible scars on his forehead and scalp that he said were a result of the exorcism conducted by his wife.

He could not explain why he was locked away in a secluded room while the baptism was being conducted and why he failed to forcibly break out when he heard strange sounds of people coming from the Mutorahuku stream.

However, his father Evaristo Taitivanhu Pfumbidza said it was unfortunate that his son was blaming himself for the tragedy when it was clear that his estranged wife exhibited signs of demonic possession.

“Yes, my son once suffered from mental illness and stayed at Ngomahuru for almost a year. When he came back, he was always talking about his wife and children.

“A few days before the death of his children, he received a call from his wife who was complaining that his children were going to school without shoes. He then decided to harvest tomatoes from his garden and carried them to Sengwe, where he intended to sell them,” said Mr Pfumbidza.

Mr Pfumbidza said three days after he left, they received news of the deaths of his two grandchildren.

“It’s unbelievable; we are still in a state of shock. So many unanswered questions,” Mr Pfumbidza said.

He said his daughter-in-law had her first child with an unknown man in Marondera before getting married to his son. It is that child, Chido who managed to escape the baptism and rushed to alert other villagers of the gory happenings at Mutorahuku stream.

As The Herald left the Pfumbidza home, a dark-cloud still hung around the village as mourners were still trooping in to pay their condolences. Villagers spoke in hushed tones of the bizarre incident, the first of its kind in both Sengwe and Buhera rural communities.

They still recounted how in the early hours of Monday, June 6, six children from the Dzvuke, Pfumbidza and Muvadi families lost their lives in a botched baptism conducted by self-styled prophetess Maud Dzvuke and her two accomplices Jane Ruvinga and Tony Kondo, with one child managing to escape while two were lucky to recover at Sadza Hospital.

The six who lost their lives are Emmanuel Dzvuke (7), Tafadzwa Dzvuke (6), Tinotenda Dzvuke (4), Blessed Muvadi (1), Patience Pfumbidza (9), and Sharmaine Pfumbidza (4) from Tiyemba and Muriwo villages respectively.

Maud, Jane and Tony have since been arrested and appeared in court facing culpable homicide at Chivhu Magistrate Courts. The trio was remanded in custody pending further investigations.