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Lorraine Mbulawa: the law and spirits
07/02/2011 00:00:00
by Gilbert Nyambabvu
 
New legal terrain ... Lorraine Mbulawa
 
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THE attempted murder trial of Lorraine Mbulawa, covered extensively by this website over the last week, must sound like the stuff of literary fabulation, judgement of which should be left to literary critics.

By all accounts, Mbulawa is your typical 19-year-old girl just going through the grind of growing up – boyfriends, break-ups, pursuit of independence and attending university.

But over the last two weeks, and in stunning detail, the world has heard of a sinister side to this girl during her trial for the attempted murder of her mum, Sibusisiwe Mbulawa, at the Leicester Crown Court.

Lorraine, the court heard, put on dark clothes, gloves and a self-fashioned balaclava before attempting to murder her mother who was asleep in bed. She woke during the attack, believing it was a burglar and wrestled a knife from her assailant only to discover it was her own daughter.

Police found no motive for what appeared a senseless crime, and nothing could have prepared the jury for the testimonies it heard.

Lorraine, who woke up to find his father dead in a sea of blood in the bathroom of their Zimbabwe home years ago, told a court she had no recollection of the events on the night she was accused of attempting to kill her mother. But she remembered seeing, in a dream, her dead paternal grandmother and her father’s young sister, Charlotte, standing at the foot of her bed.

"My grandmother said my mother was responsible for the death of my father and I had to do the honourable thing to my father by killing my mother," she testified.

A police officer who arrived at the scene said Mbulawa appeared as if in a trance, but by the time she got to the police station she seemed to be different person.

Her mother told a jury that her daughter appeared not to be herself on the night of the attack and she did not recognise her daughter's voice -- backing the defence which argued she was possessed by her grandmother's vengeful spirit.

"She wasn't the same daughter that I knew," the 43-year-old nurse said.

And a psychiatrist called by the defence told the court “there was a likely psychological disorder of consciousness, in a disassociated state, a bit like being in an hypnotic state – a subconscious experience so the mind didn't go with the actions."



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But James House, prosecuting, said her actions on the night – getting dressed in dark clothes and gloves, putting eye holes in a makeshift balaclava and fetching a knife from a kitchen drawer – were complex cognitive functions, suggesting she was aware of what she was doing.

The expert witness Professor Nigel Eastman disagreed, saying someone could get on a train to London in a "disassociated state," before regaining normal awareness and wondering where they were.

The prosecutor had a case to prove, it’s his job, but even he admitted during the trial this was new terrain.
House told the court: "Her mother has expressed a belief in the power of spirits common in the culture of Zimbabwe.
"Had it happened there, her daughter would have been treated by a medicine man and would have been exorcised.”
Indeed, Lorraine’s story would have befuddled few, if any, Zimbabweans.

It reminded me of a remarkable case – years back -- involving a long-time friend who could easily have fatally harmed his own brother and father in similarly mysterious circumstances.

We had gone to watch a football match in Kwekwe and were enjoying a few Scuds when my friend suddenly started attacking his elder brother, all the while mumbling what sounded like fantastic incomprehensibles.

Assuming the chap had had one too many for his own good, we decided to take him home with a whole crowd of bemused locals on our trail.

Along the way, we passed a local bar where the fellow’s father was treating himself to similarly opaque material. His liquidated pleasures were to be interrupted when he was alerted to the fact that the commotion involved one of his own issues.

He came to find out what was going on only to be welcomed with a powerful left-handed uppercut which left his forehead cut and gushing blood.

By then, his son was howling like an infuriated bulldog. But we were too drunk to think much of it and decided that what was happening was one of the as-yet-undiscovered side-effects of the Scud.

So we dragged him – kicking and screaming – back home and locked him in his bedroom. We decided to leave him to calm down and retraced our steps to the local binging place.

But before we had got round the corner, there was my friend charging after us. Apparently, he had somehow broken the lock on his house.

At that point, his father, who had also followed us back home, told us: “Boys, I think izvi ndezvekumusha kwangu [this is a family problem]. Take him back into the house.”

And so we did. We lay him on his bed, one fellow holding down his legs while I took care of his troublesome and – at this point – very dangerous hands.

His father took a five cent coin, put it into a small wooden plate, knelt down and clapping his hands in that traditional manner, said: “My name is Dube, who are you and what do you want?”

My friend suddenly stopped struggling and calmed down. But in a voice that wasn’t his, he began relating the tale of a family murder and betrayal that had happened ages ago in Mozambique.

The voice speaking at that time, it became clear to us, was that of a man murdered by an elder brother who wanted his wife. The voice gave the old man some directions on how the family could make good on the old tragedy, and also advised that when they were ready to make the payment – I assumed some sacrificial ritual – they should revive the spirit through my friend.

After a lengthy monologue, my friend suddenly collapsed in a heap. He returned to his old self shortly after, changed his clothes after wondering why he was wet (we had splashed water on him) and we returned to the bar.

Nothing of the bizarre events of that night was discussed again, as my friend appeared completely oblivious to what had gone on.

It was not until a day later that he brought the matter up, apparently after his girlfriend confronted him over the bizarre happenings of the previous night.

I cannot be certain how the story ended, but I became aware some years later that the family had in fact tried to exorcise my friend of the dead man’s spirit but the voice had been heard again warning: “If you try that, the boy will die.”

I was quite happy, although sad at the same time, that the jury found Lorraine not guilty on the charge of attempted murder but convicted her of the lesser crime of “unlawful wounding”.

Justice Brian Keith told the court after the jury returned its verdict: “This was, on the face of it, a motiveless attack for Lorraine to have consciously carried out on her mother."

This ground breaking case should, hopefully, open a new debate to increase our understanding of a murky strange world which some among us refuse to believe exists.


 
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