THE elderly woman sprints like a teenager, almost like she is part of a relay team.
The crowd follows her as she heads towards the river. When they get there, she is already in the shallow river and retrieving human skeletal remains.
However, the skull is missing.
“After they killed me, they threw my body in this river but they placed my skull and my firearm 500 metres from here. I will show you,” she says in a male voice.
It is evident that something or someone has possessed her.
Drenched in water, the woman sprints towards another direction and with the crowd following her, she halts under a tree and starts digging with her bare hands.
She takes out a human skull and a rusty AK47 rifle.
In the male voice, she describes how the person whose remains were being retrieved was killed.
She goes on to name him and where his family can be located.
She then seats down and asks for a cup of water.
As the spirit leaves her body, the woman gulps about 5 litres of water.
Cde Joice Mlilo calls a normal day as she conducts her exhumation duties.
The woman is a spirit medium who specialises in exhuming the remains of liberation war fighters who were buried in shallow graves and disused mineshafts across the country and in neighbouring countries.
Cde Masuku is her late grandfather whose spirit manifests on her to identify the late freedom fighters and their families.
She is the chief exhumer and heads the Manicaland Identification, Exhumation and Reburial of Fallen Heroes Trust (MIERFHT).
Her late grandfather acts as a mediator between the living and the dead freedom fighters.
“This started when I fell ill in 2000. I was bedridden for two years. My late grandfather, Cde Masuku, wanted me to help the family locate where he was buried, but I did not know how until his spirit possessed me and led me to Zvimba in Mashonaland West where I led the exhumation process of his remains. Those were the first remains that I exhumed. As the chief exhumer, I lead the identification of the remains and families of fallen heroes,” she explained.
“A lot of people are puzzled by how I interact with the spirits of the fallen heroes. It is a calling, the spirits of the fallen freedom fighters need closure and I am just a facilitator for this to happen. When you take it that way, you can live peacefully with these spirits,” she said.
Cde Mlilo said she has helped in the exhumation of the remains of thousands of fallen freedom fighters.
“I have exhumed and helped rebury thousands of fallen freedom fighters since 2000. The majority of the remains were exhumed from mass graves. Some were exhumed in shallow graves, while some were in the open as they were never buried.
“At most times, my late grandfather, Cde Masuku, guides me, but in some occasions I get possessed by the spirits of the fallen comrades. For a non-believer, it is quite scary, but once someone witnesses me in action, they will start believing in our African traditional belief systems,” she said.
Cde Mlilo is a family woman who juggles between looking after her family of five children and a husband and helping families locate their beloved deceased family members.
Cde Mlilo said her husband is her pillar of strength.
“My husband is a war veteran. He keeps encouraging me to help families with missing relatives to get closure on their sons and daughters who never returned home when the liberation war ended,” she said.
She does not charge anything for helping identify the fallen heroes.
“I volunteer my services. I meet all the costs of traversing across the length and breadth of Zimbabwe as I execute my duties. Sometimes the families of the fallen heroes chip in, but I do not charge them,” she said.
Cde Mlilo works with a team of eight people who are also spirit mediums.
According to one of her advisors who is also Mutasa District war veterans political commissar, Cde Golden Nyakatsapa, Cde Mlilo is the best when it comes to spiritual manifestations.
He showered Cde Mlilo with praises for her passion in exhuming and reburying the remains of freedom fighters.
“She is very passionate about her job and I think it is because she has a very strong support system. The advisors and spectres all work together to see that the comrades receive a befitting burial and that their families get closure. We do not have many people in the country who have sacrificed their lives to help in the exhumation and reburial of fallen cadres,” said Cde Nyakatsapa.
He said their core mandate is to give befitting burials to all fallen freedom fighters whose remains lie scattered across the country and in neighbouring countries.
Recently, Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister, Honourable Kazembe Kazembe said reburial should be accompanied by identification of victims where possible.
He said Government is working tirelessly to harness advances made in genomic sciences so that Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) analysis can be used in identification of victims.
“Identification of victims helps the relatives who have had questions since the end of the war when their loved ones did not return home,” said Minister Kazembe
— Manica Post