THE Lukulu witch-doctor in the Western Province consulted his snail shell which he used as some kind of a telephone and looked at the two worried uncles and workmates seated before him. He then broke into a magic song and uttered incantations in a language which no ordinary person could understand.
Thereafter, he looked at the two uncles again and shook his head. “I am sad to say that we are dealing with a person who is no longer with us in this world of the living,” he announced. “Your missing nephew is dead. As I am talking to you now, his body is rotting in a shallow grave where his killers buried him. May his soul rest in peace.”
According to the witch-doctor the missing man, Dearson Kaungo, a Lusaka-based ZESCO mechanic/technician, had been killed by friends somewhere between Mongu Road and the road leading to Lukulu boma.
“After killing him, his friends removed his genitals and sold them for cash,” he claimed.
However, the witch-doctor’s claims were soon to be disproved when that very night the missing man suddenly appeared at Lukulu boma in the company of a court messenger from Dongwe near Kabompo in the North-Western Province.
For almost a week, Kaungo wandered about in the wilderness, surviving on wild fruits and not knowing where he was and where he was coming from, while Lukulu regular and paramilitary police officers, accompanied by villagers around the area and two worried uncles, frantically looked for him without success.
Indeed, Kaungo’s story reads more or less like a fairy tale but then, believe it or not, it is very true. The episode started on Saturday, September 2, 1989, when Kaungo, in the company of workmates, left Lusaka for Lukulu where he was to repair a defective electrical generator.
Midway between Kaoma and Lukulu, their vehicle, a Nissan Patrol, four-wheel drive, developed a fault. Kaungo came out and opened the bonnet. Since the engine was still very hot, he decided to wait for it to cool down before he could attend to the fault.
While waiting for the engine to cool, Kaungo suddenly felt pain in the stomach and went to attend to nature’s call. He walked into the bush not very far from where his friends were and tried to relieve himself but nothing happened. He then stood up and, as he was dressing up, he saw a pair of overalls coming towards him on its own! He had no idea where it was coming from.
Some smoke similar to the type produced by fireworks billowed from the overalls. Suddenly, the overalls disappeared and then he saw a big snake lying on the ground as if it was dead. However, when he tried to avoid it by passing to the other side, the snake sprang up and blocked him from going to the road.
He started running deeper into the bush and then a smaller snake appeared from nowhere and faced him from the opposite side. He was thus trapped between the two snakes. However, he continued running with the two serpents hot in pursuit.
As he ran, chased by the two snakes, Kaungo heard invisible beings laughing at him. He increased his speed, running as fast as his legs could carry him, not daring to look back.
After he had run for a long time and the mystery snakes chasing him had disappeared, Kaungo climbed a tree and tried to call his friends, not knowing that he had gone very far, hence there was no response. He climbed down and continued running to nowhere.
At night, he started seeing fires and hills being formed in front of him. The mocking laughter also resumed. He could also see a path which looked as if bicycles had passed there. What surprised him, however, was that come day, the path would mysteriously disappear, only to re-appear at night!
Between 04:00 and 05:00 hours the following day, Kaungo noticed a fire in the woods. By that time, he was tired, thirsty and hungry. He approached the place and much to his amazement, he found a grey-haired old man dressed only in a loin cloth, roasting a bird on the fire. There was no sign of a village nearby.
Kaungo needed water urgently, so he clapped his hands in accordance with the Lozi custom of showing respect for old people and asked for “mezi” (water). The old man didn’t answer but only pointed in a certain direction. Kaungo went there and found some muddy water.
He took off his shirt and dipped it in the muddy water. He then wrung the shirt and drank the drops of water dripping from it, after which he continued his journey to nowhere. It surprised him that for the several days he had been travelling, he did not come across a single village and the only human soul he ever saw was the strange old man whom he found roasting a bird deep in the bush and at an odd hour of the morning.
All this time, his food consisted of wild fruits and bark fibre. On one occasion, he became so hungry he was forced to eat a raw crab. After passing through a forest and a plain where he met a lot of lions and elephants, Kaungo saw a group of men wearing uniforms. These turned out to be game guards.
Just at that point in time, the man collapsed. The game guards applied first aid on him and once he had regained consciousness, they took him for questioning since they suspected him to be either a poacher or a member of the notorious Mushala gang, especially that his beard had grown long with the passing of time.
The place was the West Lunga National Park in Kabompo and it was over 200 kilometres from Lukulu. The game guards later took him to a local clinic run by the Zambia Flying Doctor Service for treatment, after which he was handed over to a court messenger at Dongwe who looked after him for two days since his legs had swollen.
Thereafter, the court messenger and Kaungo were given a lift in an ambulance taking patients to Lukulu’s Santa Maria Mission Hospital. The ambulance dropped the duo at a school where the headteacher prepared food for him.
They didn’t spend a night at the school because a company driver from Kaoma went to pick them up and drove them to Lukulu.
Meanwhile, before this happened, on September 5, 1989, two of Kaungo’s uncles arrived at Lukulu boma from Lusaka to join the search for the missing nephew. About 30 people, who included regular and paramilitary police officers and the villagers, took part in the search but Kaungo was nowhere to be found.
It was then that the villagers suggested that they consult a witch-doctor who told them that Kaungo had been killed by his friends. The witch-doctor had demanded K100 (a substantial amount of money in those days) for his services. He promised to refund the money should he be proved wrong.
On the material night, the two uncles were sleeping in the Zesco guest house when, at about 03:00 hours, they heard a knock on the door. They opened the door and there, in the company of a court messenger and a school headteacher who had brought him, was their beloved nephew, Kaungo! His pockets were full of wild fruits.
Kaungo finally returned to Lusaka on September 9, 1989, to be reunited with his family.