“I was married off to my current husband at the age of 16. I did not know him as I was given as compensation to appease the avenging spirit of a man who was said to have been murdered by my great grandfather,” said Tariro Mbeta (not her real name).
By Vimbai Kamoyo
Avenging spirits are an African concept where the dead who would have been aggrieved come back in spirit to torment and settle scores with those who wronged them and their relatives.
In most cases the avenging spirits demand beasts and young girls as compensation for the wrong that were done to them.
In a case that gripped the nation and made headlines, Midlands Provincial Minister Jason Machaya in 2012 parted ways with 35 head of cattle and $15 000 to compensate the Chokuda family whose son had been murdered by the minister’s son and other two accomplices.
Arts and culture expert Pathisa Nyathi said avenging spirits were a necessity as they ensured social justice and fairness.
“It is an African reality of ensuring social justice and fairness. Traditional Africans posited that reality is made up of material or physical and spiritual realms. Human beings themselves are constituted in the same manner. They are both matter and spirit. Life is an enduring reality that transforms from one form to the other. Death, so argued the Africans was not the end but an important transition from material and physical to a completely spiritual reality. In a nutshell, justice and fairness are cornerstones of African jurisprudence. If one kills then there was need to compensate to secure justice and equilibrium to the family that has been robbed of its member.
“Life was taken to be sacrosanct and thus respected. Avenging spirits were then seen as an enforcer of justice and fairness and kept everybody on the straight on the straight and narrow path,” said Nyathi explaining the concept of avenging spirits.
Agreeing with Nyathi, traditional healer Ray Kakono popularly known as Sekuru Makudo said the compensation of avenging spirits with young girls was meant to bring justice to the family of the murdered person as the young girls would bear children in the family of the murder victim.
“The idea was for the girls to give birth in the family of the murdered and thereby compensate for the loss of that member. Everything was anchored in fairness and justice,” said sekuru Makudo.
However, prominent traditional healer Friday Chisanyu who heads Zimbabwe National Practitioners Association an organisation for traditional and faith healers said compensating with girls is archaic, exploitative and has no place in the modern world.
“The practice of compensating with girls is old fashioned and as traditional healers we do not encourage it. There is the issue or diseases and besides the laws of the country does not allow such practices. Nobody should marry before the age of 18; the law is clear on that. Avenging spirits are spirits of the dead and can be talked with by the person who will be leading the cleansing ceremony. One can compensate with money and cattle if you talk well with the spirit of the aggrieved person,” said Chisanyu.
In Zimbabwe it is illegal to marry off a child who is below the age of 18.
In a landmark ruling handed down by the constitutional court in January this year marriages under the age of 18 are deemed unlawful, specifically sections 22 (1) of Marriage Act (Chapter 5:11) which allowed children of 16 to marry.
The Constitutional Court, in delivering the judgment said: “It is declared that section 78 (1) of the constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe Amendment Number 20 of section 2013 sets 18 years as the minimum age of marriage in Zimbabwe
“It is further declared that section 22 (1) of the Marriage Act (Chapter 5:11)or any law, practice or custom authorizing a person under the age of 18 to be married is inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution and therefore invalid to the extent of inconsistency.
“The law is hereby struck down. With effect from 20 January 2016, no person, male or female may enter into marriage, including an unregistered customary union or any other union including one arising out of religious rites, before attaining the age of 18,” ruled DCJ Malaba.
Zimbabwe joined the AU Campaign to end child marriages in mid-2015. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development with support from UNICEF, UNWOMEN, UNFPA, the Child Rights and Women’s Rights Coalitions has been working on a National Action Plan to End Child Marriages and its related communication for development activities. The Constitutional Court ruling of January 2016 has been an impetus to move the agenda forward. All these efforts are part of the global campaign to end child marriages.