IT was a miracle hailed by the authorities as a solution to Zimbabwe’s problems.
Nomatter Tagarira, a spirit medium, had apparently been blessed with the power to conjure diesel from a rock–providing fuel for a country suffering dire shortages.
Unable to contain their excitement, President Robert Mugabe’s officials invested in Tagarira’s extraordinary abilities, lavishing her with a $2.7 million cash gift. It was more than a year before they realised they had been fooled.
On Wednesday, Tagarira was sentenced to 39 months in jail for defrauding the government and supplying “false information to the state”, according to court documents. “Many people became gullible,” magistrate Ignatius Mugova told the court.
“The state channelled immense resources toward the diesel project.”
What Tagarira, 35, neglected to mention after revealing her supernatural abilities in 2007 was that she had earlier filled an old fuel bowser with diesel, attached a length of pipe, and hidden it. Then she let it be known to local functionaries of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party that ancestral spirits had given her the gift of spiriting diesel from a rock 96km north of Harare.
Mugabe dispatched a taskforce to investigate what was already being talked about as a source of fuel for the nation. The ministers of State Security and Defence watched as Tagarira struck the rock–the signal for a hidden assistant to open the tap from the bowser–and a fountain of diesel gushed out.
The ministers, accompanied by the deputy commissioner of police and an array of military commanders, removed their shoes, sat on the bare ground and clapped in unison. They returned to report to Mugabe that the nation’s fuel problems could be at an end. Sentencing her, Mr Mugova said Tagarira had lied to the government and the people. “Her trickery brought despondency in the nation,” he said.
At one point, ministers supplied a 50-vehicle convoy for her on a 465km trip for night-time rituals to consolidate the “project”, he said. She was flown about in air force helicopters. As well as the cash gift, she was given a farm seized from its white owner, cattle and large quantities of food. A permanent armed guard was stationed around the rock.
The ruse came to light after Mugabe, not entirely convinced, sent a second taskforce. This time, it reported she had “failed to prove the existence of fuel”.
Tagarira immediately absconded. She was caught, and escaped but was recaptured after nearly three years on the run.
Even after her first arrest, some remained convinced of her supernatural abilities. At her first court appearance, she went into a trance, growling apparently possessed–causing several spectators to flee the room.
[More background to this story can be read here.]