Two men from Mutare’s Dangamvura suburb drowned last weekend after diving into Fern Valley Dam trying to rescue a girl who was about to drown during an exorcism ceremony.

According to a report by The Manica Post, the bodies of Paul Mupukuta (44) and Clifford Mhlanga (68) were retrieved by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s Sub-Aqua Unit last Monday.

ZRP spokesperson in Manicaland Province Inspector Norbert Muzondo said the now-deceased Mupukuta approached a traditional healer, Mbuya Monica Mhlanga of Area 3, Dangamvura, to assist him in finding a solution to a spiritual problem that was allegedly affecting his family.

He said the parties proceeded to Fern Valley Dam for a cleansing ceremony where Mupukuta and Mhlanga eventually drowned.

It is alleged that during the cleansing ceremony, Mbuya Mhlanga who was cleansing Mupukuta’s 15-year-old daughter said she was feeling weak.

When the girl started drowning, her father jumped into the water to assist her while Mhlanga also dived in to rescue his wife.

Gogo Mhlanga and Mupukuta’s daughter survived, while Mupukuta and Mhlanga drowned.

The councillor for the area, Calvin Matsiya, said Fern Valley Dam was established as a recreational reservoir but people were now using it for religious, recreational or fishing purposes without permission from the local authority.

He implored members of the public to seek guidance before they partake in any activities at the dam, including weddings and parties.

However, a self-proclaimed spiritual healer only identified as Banda attributed the drownings to the work of “mermaids”. Said Banda:

"I am a believer in mermaid spirits. I am a worshipper of marine spirits and we should have been given a chance to carry out our rituals to save the lives of the victims before the sub-aqua unit was called."

"If we had carried out an overnight vigil at the dam, the two men would have popped out of the water and slept safely on the reeds like the Biblical Moses for us to find them alive and healthy the following day."

"A cleansing ritual should be done at the dam as a matter of urgency."

A local resident who preferred anonymity told The Manica Post that the dam’s aquatic life is under threat from ritualists. Said the resident:

"We have come across people leaving different cloths, jewellery, expensive cutlery and foodstuffs such as meat and sweets."

"All these items find their way into the dam. Some pour opaque beer and wine into the dam as offerings, thereby threatening the dam’s aquatic life."

"We have told our children to stay away from the dam and not to take anything away from it as they can be baits put there by those who frequent the dam to recruit people into their cults."