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Footballer drowns during team ritual in Zambezi River

By Lindie Whiz

A ZIMBABWEAN football player drowned during a team “spirit cleansing” exercise in the crocodile-infested Zambezi River, police confirmed.

The unnamed player for Southern Division One team Midlands Portland Cement took part in the ritual with 16 others on Sunday, ahead of a league match against Victoria Falls club, Sao Paolo.

The incident will raise new questions about the lengths Zimbabwean teams are prepared to go in ritualistic ceremonies to improve luck, known across Africa as “juju”.

Chief Superintendent Peter Rodzi, the officer commanding Victoria Falls police district, told the Chronicle newspaper that the players had been led to a section of the river near the VIP entrance gate to the Rainforest.

“After some time in the water, the players came out and after everybody had put on their clothes and was preparing to leave, it was then realised that a set of clothes and a cell phone were still on the ground. The other players and members of the team then noticed that the player was missing,” Chief Superintendent Rodzi said.

A search by the team failed to find the player’s body and police were called. By late Monday, his body had not been found and police were still withholding his name.

Chief Sup. Rodzi said: “The area where the team was swimming is prohibited as the current is strong. The river is also infested with crocodiles and hippos.”

The Chronicle, quoting sources, said the players had been “forced” into the ritual.

“The technical team told every player to get into the river so that they could be cleansed of bad spirits,” the paper said, quoting a source.

Midlands Portland Cement still went on to fulfil the fixture, and despite the deadly ritual, they were trailing Sao Paolo 1-0 before the match was abandoned. Portland contested a penalty decision for Paolo which would have seen then stretch their lead to 2-0 if converted.

Zimbabwean football teams and many others in Africa are steeped in supernatural beliefs. Football officials and players are convinced most football stadiums are fortresses for home teams because of juju, and routinely perform certain rituals to overcome “bad spirits”, but rarely do the rituals result in death.

Farayi Mungazi, a former Zimbabwean football commentator now reporting widely across Africa for BBC World Service told New "How can these things still happen in this day and age? It's unbelievable. I have heard stories galore on juju right across Africa but this is tragic. It's got to be the worst because someone actually died."

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