Police seek tribal healer after diesel hoax

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The Independent Online

When traditional healer Rotina Mavhunga claimed in April that she had discovered deposits of refined diesel seeping from rocks near a spiritual shrine, the find was heralded as manna from heaven.

Long-suffering Zimbabweans jumped on the news as a welcome respite from their daily economic gloom - including an acute diesel shortage - and the government investigated reports that the liquid had powered a diesel vehicle.

But yesterday the bubble burst when state media reported that police had arrested 50 followers of Mavhunga. The tribal healer herself was on the run.

Government spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira conceded that there were no fuel deposits, according to the ruling party newspaper The Voice.

"Nothing convincing was found, meaning there were no deposits of diesel in the area," the paper quoted him as saying.

The healer made headlines with her claims that she had found the fuel near an ancestral shrine in the Chinhoyi district, 60 miles north-west of Harare, state radio said.

The witchdoctor told her followers the fuel could last hundreds of years and was "a gift from ancestral spirits who saw their children suffering because of the shortages of fuel," the state Sunday Mail, a government mouthpiece, said.

Traditional healers are held in high regard in Zimbabwe, like many other African nations, and superstition runs high.

Three top politicians, Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi and Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi, in charge of police, went to the district to investigate the claims - a sign that the government took them seriously.

But after their visit, "experts said it was scientifically implausible that diesel would gush out of any rock," the Voice said.

From the outset, fuel industry executives said the only source of the fuel could have been secret underground tanks abandoned by the white-led colonial-era military in the last days of the guerrilla war that swept President Robert Mugabe to power at independence in 1980.

The Sunday Mail said it was not clear under which laws Mavhunga or her followers were to be charged.

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