Njelele not just a rain-making shrine
by Hilary Mazinani — reprinted from the Chronicle
Njelele, one of the oldest and most revered religious shrines in the country, has been at the centre of controversy over the past few months.
The place of worship, located in the Matobo Hills in Matabeleland South Province, is usually visited at given months of the year when people from all over the country come together for rain-making ceremonies. The shrine is sanctuary to a spirit medium uNgwali (rainmaker) who some Zimbabweans believe has extraordinary powers to bring rains.
In recent months, groups of war veterans and chiefs have visited the shrine to perform some rituals. This has created a storm as traditional and political leaders in Matabeleland feel that they should have been consulted ahead of the visits. Now, some, like the custodian of Njelele, Mr Solifa Ncube (81), also known as Khulu Thobela, feel that the shrine had lost its importance because of the unsanctioned visits.
“Abantu abasakwazi ukuqakatheka kwendawo le (people do not know the importance of this place). They think it is just like any other place for prayer, forgetting that this is a sacred and holy shrine.
“Some people think that the place is only for rain-making rituals as they were made to believe yet this place is actually for many purposes that give guidance to life.
“For one to fully understand what Njelele is all about he must first cleanse his inner being and go to the shrine naked and bath there. After that the spirit of Njelele will reveal itself.”
Khulu Thobela said people were allowed to go to the Njelele rock for traditional rituals under the guidance of traditionalists who are the custodians of the shrine, between March and 29 September yearly.
The shrine would be closed for the rest of the time for cleansing.
“The shrine has a specific time when people could visit. During the time of the last moon, known as elimnyama in Ndebele, people are not allowed to visit the shrine. Rain dances and other religious ceremonies were held there,” he said.
Khulu Thobela said it was taboo for one to point a finger at the shrine as something drastic would happen to them.
People living around the shrine have raised concern over what they view as sacrilege of Njelele, saying that the people who visited the place recently have disturbed peace and programmes that are usually done at the shrine.
Mrs Joyce Moyo, a villager, said that the closure of the place early this month was a good idea to prevent the illegal visits, but had disturbed the ceremonies that are performed there during this time of the year.
“In August, many people from different parts of the world usually come to this place for the rain-making ceremonies but since this place is closed, we do not know what will happen. Already, we are afraid we might not have rain this season again.
“Our understanding of Njelele is that it has a period and time when people should visit unlike the unsanctioned visits that we saw in the last few months when strangers went there any time. This might lead to poor rains.”
Mrs Moyo said the Njelele Shrine was very significant in ancient days.
“It was the place where elders used to go and report all problems bedevilling communities such as droughts, lightning bolts or diseases. They also went there to apologise for society’s misdemeanours and other related issues. There used to be a voice coming out of the Njelele rock whenever spirit mediums went to present their concerns at the shrine. However, that voice has since fallen silent and the place is now quiet. That is because of the disrespect people have shown to the place,” she said.
Another villager, who only identified himself as Mr Sibanda, said the shrine had lost its integrity over the years with strangers just coming there to perform their rituals.
“People used to come to the shrine accompanied by the shrine keeper and perform their rituals under the guidance of the keeper. Even during the liberation struggle, some politicians visited the shrine to seek guidance but they did so in the company of the keeper.”
Since the beginning of this year, there have been about three unsanctioned visits by groups of people, among them war veterans. The latest visit was by a group of about 568 people who caused a stir when they bulldozed their way into Matopo’s National Park with an intention of proceeding to Njelele. They failed to reach the shrine, but still managed to conduct rituals in the national park.
The group sought to conduct the rituals at Njelele without the knowledge and approval of the traditional leadership from Matabeleland South Province.
Its leaders claimed that their visit had the blessings of senior Government officials. They said Co-Minister of Home Affairs Kembo Mohadi and Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Management, Francis Nhema, were aware of their visit.
The group also claimed that Minister Nhema gave them game meat for consumption during the cleansing ceremony.
Before this visit, groups of unknown people numbering about 750, 650 and 150 surreptitiously visited Njelele and forced their way in and conducted cleansing ceremonies without the knowledge and approval of the local traditional leadership.
It is alleged that the groups of visitors, some of them war veterans, went to Mozambique and Zambia sometime ago where they toured places where liberation war fighters died and were buried.
They picked up some stones from the mass graves, which they brought to Njelele to conduct cleansing rituals as they said they were being haunted by the spirits of those who died in the war.
Veteran journalist and cultural activist, Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu said Njelele is a shrine for traditional worship for people who believed in Mwali.
“The shrine has been in existence since time immemorial starting with the first at Lutombo Gwabanyayi at the time of the advent of the Venda people who broke into the land of the Kalangas following the Thuli River and moving northwards. Still following the river they created other shrines which include Chizeze, Mbudzi, Mavulamatjena now called White Waters in Matopo and then to Njelele.
“Worshippers of Mwali go there to ask for Mwali’s intervention in time of epidemics, diseases, also during outbreak of pests such as locusts that destroy their crops.
“Individual people and families go there also to ask for Mwali’s help in case of infertility of either a couple or livestock. Some families also go there to ask for a son(s) or daughter(s).
“The procedure to enter is strictly to go through a hierarchy of intercessors who live around and take care of the physical maintenance of the shrine.
“It is not permissible for individuals to go there directly without being led formally by the keeper responsible for the shrine,” he said.