Sep 1, 2003

Bogus Healer Convicted in Mermaids Case

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- A bogus traditional healer who persuaded a businesswoman to hire "mermaids" and accommodate them in a Harare hotel to help find a stolen car was convicted of theft by false pretenses, court officials said Tuesday.
Harare magistrate Sandra Nhau found Edina Chizema guilty of swindling a businesswoman of her savings with promises that mermaids would help recover the luxury car in 2004 and solve the businesswoman's unspecified "personal problems."
In Zimbabwe, where tribal superstition is deeply entrenched, prosecutors said Chizema persuaded Margaret Mapfumo to pay 200 million Zimbabwe dollars (about $30,000) to hire mermaids, feed and accommodate them in a Harare hotel, buy power generators for a floodlit lakeside ceremony and invoke ancestral spirits to find the missing car.
Some of the money was to be used to buy a bull whose genitals -- described in court as the animal's "strong part" -- would point out the car thief, prosecutors said.
At a hearing Monday, the magistrate said Chizema, who had pleaded not guilty and claimed to be a spirit medium, was not a credible witness and the "idiosyncrasies" of her plea were not recognized in law.
Chizema will be sentenced to imprisonment or a fine at a sentencing hearing later, the court officials said.
In Zimbabwe, prominent figures and even leading politicians have often been the victims of such scams.
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