SCORES of people from both local and neighbouring countries are thronging Binga Hot Springs in search of a miracle cure for all sorts of ailments as the water is believed to have healing properties.
The hot springs, which have been in existence from time immemorial in the Matabeleland North province, are said to have suddenly become popular after visitors claimed to have been cured of ailments by bathing at the springs.
People come from as far afield as South Africa, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania, with some collecting the water back to their respective countries for use in treating ailing relatives. On my visit to the area last year revealed that the former tourist attraction has since turned into an arena for ritual activities.
The use of chickens, which is usually accustomed with the tradition of cleansing evil spirits, has become the order of the day at the springs as witnessed by feathers scattered all over the place.
The point has also been filled with an odour as visitors use things like eggs, chickens and goats to conduct the ceremonies. Men and women’s underwear is also thrown all over the place, signalling that people could be leaving behind their clothing on instruction after a cleansing ceremony.
Binga elders in the proximity of the springs confirmed that the water was able to cure some ailments. One elder, Mr Simangogo said he grew up knowing that the place was sacred.
Although he could not remember when he was born, he said the period dated back to the time before work on the construction of the Kariba Dam started in 1955. Mr Simagogo said it was taboo for any visitor to go near the springs without authority of the local spirit medium, known as Mmadalila.
He said the spirit medium would bathe in the hot water without being burnt. He was more of a rain maker. “I saw him (the spirit medium) when I was just 10 years old,” said Mr Simangogo
“He had natural dreadlocks and would dance like the whirlwind at one place until he becomes invisible.’’
Mr Simagogo said thereafter there would be heavy rains in the area. He said such a ceremony was conducted by elders.
A sheep was tied to a tree near the springs, while traditional beer that would have been brewed by elders was drunk during the ceremony.
“As people left the shrine, no one was allowed to look back as they risked being eaten by a lion,’’ he said.
He said when the medium died; one person from the village who claimed to have inherited the sprit failed the test as he refused to bathe in the springs.
This made the elders reject his claims.
“This was used as a testing point where anyone who claimed to be the spirit medium was supposed to bathe from the springs without sustaining any burns,” said Mr Simagogo.
“That was the only sign to prove if the claims were true. This man, however, refused to bathe in the water, thereby forcing the elders to dismiss his claims.’’
Mr Simagogo said the place had suddenly become popular although he was not sure what diseases people were being cured of. In the past, locals used the shrine as a sacred area where only the elders would conduct traditional ceremonies.
“Families would seek to have the avenging spirit removed by conducting a ceremony at the springs,” said Mr Simagogo
“This would only be done in consultation with the spirit medium.’’
Two other elderly women, Mrs Mutsiga Mola and Mrs Kanema Mola, who said they were born before the construction of Kariba Dam, confirmed the place was sacred.
“We would go there if a villager fell ill from unknown ailments and he or she would be cured after seven days of bathing using the water,” said Mrs Mola.
“The place lost its sacredness when the white men arrived as they claimed it to be theirs.’’
The two women said the place was now being visited by all sorts of people seeking treatment as well as wishing to fight off avenging spirits.
Binga Rural District Council acting chief executive officer Mr Barnabas Mukuli said he had heard such stories as he grew up.
He said the place was once protected by the local authority so that council would earn some income from visiting tourists, but the fence was vandalised.
Mr Mukuli said people were now using the place for bathing purposes since the water there was hot.
“People go to bathe there as the hot water flows down a constructed canal,” he said.
“There is no common belief that I know of although we have seen a lot of people visiting the place.’’
Mr Mukuli said council was considering re-fencing the area to protect it.
“We have plans to re-fence the area and perhaps make it a tourist point where visitors have to pay,’’ he said.
Another elder who resides near the hot springs, Mr Enock Malilapati, said the place was so sacred that the local spirit medium would disappear in the hot water and come out with a green maize cob.
“The spirit medium would bring green maize cobs after diving into the boiling water,” he said.
“It used to be bigger than what it is now.’’ Mr Malilapati said prior to the arrival of white settlers, the springs were sacred with women of child-bearing age forbidden to enter the place.
“Cultural dances and prayers would be held at the place when there was a problem in the area such as starvation or diseases,” he said.
“But now it is free for all and the place has since lost its sacredness.’’
Yet there is no doubt that the Binga Hot Springs can be turned into a tourist attraction if well maintained.
Authorities should take advantage of the interest being shown by people from faraway places to turn it into a tourist resort.
Otherwise the place will remain largely unknown outside Binga, an area that desperately needs development.