An article on Zimbabwe in The Times on Friday made me smile for the first time in the two and half years that I have been reading about this ruined African nation. If it weren’t for The Times’ paywall, I’d happily link to Jan Raath’s article, but in lieu of that, I’ll briefly summarise.
Nomatter Tagarira, a spirit medium aged 35, was jailed this week for 39 months. Her crime was fooling Robert Mugabe and his officials into believing that she had supernatural powers to conjure diesel from a rock near her home, north of Harare. So successful was her deception that she was hailed as potential solution to the country’s energy problems by government ministers. Furthermore she managed to maintain her audacious con for over a year.
This was a sly, calculated ruse, including a secret signal given to an assistant, a length of piping concealed within the rock and £1.7million in largesse lavished on her by the government. At one point she was even supplied with a 50-vehicle convoy to help her travel on her night-time rituals, The Times reports. The officials were so taken in by it all that they employed an armed guard to stand watch and make sure no-one stole the supposedly blessed stone.
The reason this story makes me smile is not because I like reading about Zimbabwean citizens being imprisoned by Mugabe’s infamously brutal regime, far from it. The reason I reacted with mirth, is that the story of Ms Tagarira proves that there is life in Zimbabwean citizens yet. Rather than being downbeat and despondent after 30 years of reckless autocratic rule, there are still jokers, knaves, tricksters and opportunists trying to make themselves a sneaky fortune.
Furthermore, the sentence handed down was surprisingly lenient. Zimbabwe is the kind of nation where political allegiance is enough to get you thrown in prison, so the fact that serious fraud, which made fools of government officials, got such a moderate punishment seems to me as evidence that the judge may have even seen the funny side of this debacle. Ignatius Mugova, the magistrate handing down the sentence, freely admitted that “many people became gullible.”
True, it might have been a different case if Ms Tagarira had been white rather than black, but still the moderate sentence (which she undoubtedly deserved) adds a certain levity to this story. The enterprising spirit of chancers and renegades is alive and well in Zimbabwe, and it is a greater nation for it.