Home » Governance » Lightning Victims’ Relatives Searching for Answers

In the heart of the rugged terrain of Bikita district in Masvingo Province is Negovano communal lands. Here, villagers rarely experience heavy rains while thunder and lightning are “foreign”. But on February 2, 2015 the gods could have unleashed their anger to this community. On that fateful day heavy rains fell and a bolt of lightning struck, leaving seven people dead.

Many look back to this day with sorrow, raising more questions than answers.

The events will always remain etched in their memories for the unforeseeable future.

They remember how just as the sun was preparing to settle in its nest, plumes of smoke billowing from two thatched huts at the Chenjerai homestead in Mugwinyi village stopped them from what they were doing.

Within minutes, the entire village and people from surrounding areas plunged into shock and consternation after it emerged that the smouldering huts had been struck by a lightning bolt.

Their worst fears were confirmed after it later emerged that seven people had been burnt to death inside the two huts.

A single thunderbolt had reduced the two huts to ashes, killing Marian Negumo (32), her two daughters Fadzai (11) and Gloria Chenjerai (5) together with their friends Audrey Masunda (4), Esther Muchakagara (5), and siblings Claudia (4) and Crywind Mugwinyi, all from the same village

A dark cloud enveloped the entire Negovano area plunging it into mourning seemingly cursing the heavens in search of an answer behind the tragedy.

The young and the old, Christians and traditionalists joined hands in mourning the devastation caused by the bolt with many villagers saying this was a first in the area.

Indeed for an area characterised by low rainfalls, a fatal bolt of lightning is a rare occurrence.

As such almost a fortnight after tragedy struck, villagers are still looking for answers.

The tragedy for most stunned villagers, oscillated from sheer God’s handiwork to traces of witchcraft.

Mr Gilbert Zivengwa is a neighbour to the Chenjerai homestead that was struck by lightning and was the first to rush to the scene after noticing smoke wafting from two burning huts.

He said he was at a loss of words to explain what actually transpired.

“I cannot explain what happened but I was the first to arrive at the Chenjerai homestead from the mountain foot where I was heading cattle after it started raining just before 5pm last Monday.

“As I was approaching my home I noticed smoke that was coming from two thatched huts at the homestead and immediately sensed that something was amiss prompting me to rush to the scene,” he said.

Approaching the homestead, Mr Zivengwa said greeted by the crying voices of children coming out of one of the burning huts.

“They were crying out for help. Unfortunately by then the fire had engulfed the huts. Because of the inferno I could not gain entry into the hut from where the voices were coming from.

“While I was still searching for ideas the roof caved in and as the clock ticked the crying got fainter until it finally died down. I knew that whoever was in the hut had died,” he said.

Mr Zivengwa said while he was busy trying to enter the burning hut, her 10 year-old son and other villagers arrived with bucketful of water containers to put out the fire.

A battle ensured with the marauding flames.

After winning the war against the raging inferno, Mr Zivengwa together with other villagers who had rushed to the homestead, started rummaging through the smouldering hut for bodies.

“We found six bodies of children that had been burnt beyond recognition, it was a gory sight and one could hardly identify them,” he said as tears started forming in his eyes.

Villagers carried the remains of the six children out of the hut and placed them on grain bags that had been laid outside.

“When we removed the remains of the six children we waited for the arrival of police and it dawned to us that Marian Negumo was not there. We suddenly moved to the other burning hut.

“We had to destroy part of the wall to gain entry into the hut as the door was stuck,” recalled Mr Zivengwa.

Shell-shocked villagers could not hold back their tears after stumbling upon Marian’s heavily charred remains.

“Marian’s limbs had been chewed by fire. The face was also severely burnt and one could not tell that the remains were of an adult,” said Mr Zivengwa.

Marian’s father-in-law Mr Johanne Chenjerai (65) said he was in a state of shock and was unsure what had befallen his family.

He said it was difficult to come to terms with the disaster considering that the bolt did not only claim the life of his daughter-in-law and two grandchildren but also four other children from the village.

“I am at loss of words to explain what happened I could have said maybe there is a problem in the Chenjerai family if the bolt had claimed my grandchildren and daughter-in-law only but this is different,” he said.

He explained that Marian, who is a member of the Johane Masowe Apostolic sect was left in the custody of children by fellow members of her sect who had gone for a meeting for some days.

Mrs Anna Chenjerai (61) Marian’s mother in law said the tragedy was difficult to stomach.

“I am a woman who was also married into the Chenjerai family but what happened is shocking. I have no powers to tell the Chenjerai’s what to do since I am a woman but I think the incident left more questions than answers.

“If it was purely the work of God, how come there were no normal footprints of a lightning strike at the scene like cracks on the walls and ground?” she queried.

Mr Vincent Mugwinyi, father to siblings Crywind and Claudia said he would soon engage with elders from the Mugwinyi family to seek spiritual guidance over the spine- chilling death of his children.

“I suspect foul play and I will not rest until I get to the bottom of this tragedy. I could not believe it when I received a call that evening that my two children and five other people had been killed by lightning.

“I have vowed to pull resources together so that we can seek spiritual guidance and answers to the tragedy,” he added.

Mrs Nyengerai Zuvarinopisa of Mugwinyi village and Mrs Grace Musodzi of the neighbouring Musodzi village who attended Johannes Masowe Chishanu church with Marian expressed alarm over the horrific deaths at the hands of lightning.

They said they had never witnessed such a tragedy since they were born and attributed the calamity to diabolic forces.

A nonagenarian in the village, Sekuru Machivei Mabhugu fingered witchcraft for the death of Marian and the six children saying the horrific incident was unprecedented in the whole of Bikita.

Mr Chenjerai said while Government had assisted all the bereaved families with US$200 each to cover funeral expenses, the Chenjerai family was still appealing for more help to buy clothes and rebuild huts destroyed by lightning.

According to the metrological department, lightning strikes normally kill up to 100 people each year, mostly rural children. Many more people are maimed and countless livestock lost.

The department said fatalities might actually be under-reported by 20 to 30 percent and lightning injuries by more than 40 percent, as many deaths and injuries go unreported.

As the clock of time ticks into the future, the people of Bikita and those from Negovano in particular will continue to point to the heavens seeking for answers on the cause of the lightning tragedy that will for long make February 2, 2015 remembered as a day of infamy amongst villagers.

Source : The Herald