29th April 2012, 11:09 AM
Join Date: Nov 2009
Mermaids in Zimbabwe
In landlocked Zimbabwe, folklore has it that mermaids not only exist, but they have supernatural powers.
The mythical creatures have a bad reputation, with some believing they are responsible for kidnapping, torture and even murder.
Late last year, attempts to install pumps for irrigation at a dam near the eastern highlands city of Mutare came to an abrupt halt after reports of mermaid sightings.
A traditional healer was called in to cast the mermaids out.
Faith in Zimbabwe is big business and churches of all persuasions are keen to build their flocks - including the Apostolic Faith Mission.
Pastor Togare Mapingure is proud of the inroads he has been able to make in the past year. From just a handful of followers, his Sundays are now kept busy travelling between 12 different congregations in the back-hills of Mutare.
Pastor Mapingure believes in mermaids, which he classifies as a demonic force.
"Of course people use demonic forces for various purposes to benefit. But the devil's kingdom, they use the mermaids for witchcraft. So I say it is evil all the same," he said.
"When someone is taken by a mermaid it tallies very well with what is held with the African traditional religion and we can't really say it's just a way of trying to explain things that people fail to comprehend.
"I think it's real because it's not always all people who are taken by mermaids who are killed. Some, if the relatives abide by the rules of the mermaid games, you find someone resurfacing.
"If they don't abide by the same rules you find someone resurfacing, but dead."
Surviving the mystery
But for Justice Manyonga it is another story. He stands by the role that mermaids play, saying they have made him the man he is today.
A recent Christian convert, he claims to know the other side, having spent time there.
Around these hills, Mr Manyonga is known as the man who not only survived being seized by mermaids but as someone who had spent two years being tutored by them.
Under their tutelage at mermaid school he became a traditional healer.
As far-fetched as this may sound, there is no denying Mr Manyonga's belief in his past, or that many Zimbabweans believe that mermaids exist in the dams and creeks across the country today.
"A mermaid is very mysterious creature. You can't really say what complexion it is, what colour it is. It can be like a white person, or an Arab, but one distinguishing factor is that they have long hair; very, very long hair - it is metres long," he said.
"Once they take you there, you live like them. You wear something that does not show your feet. You eat what they eat. You eat fish, rice and chicken only.
"On the first day you are taken into the water, you are given millet or sorghum meal and two silver fish. The fish will be rotten but you are told to eat them. If you show any sign of disgust, the mermaids won't be happy with your ancestors and you could be killed."
For Pastor Mapingure, he is not worried about visiting congregations in mermaid country.
He knows what keeps him safe - his religion.