The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
THE mermaid that lives at the bottom of Diana’s Pool is called Thobela.
Or at least that is the totem that the locals say that the mermaid answers to.
It is a totem that belongs to one of the clans that were the one first inhabitants of the area near the mysterious pools. The Moyo clan are considered to be the descendants of this mermaid (injuzi) but they have since moved on to another area but whenever something unfortunate happens, the caretaker of Diana’s Pool sends an emissary over the mountain to inform them of the development. It is only the Moyo clan that can lead any effort to reason with the water spirit that has been resident in Diana’s Pool since time immemorial.
This was the case the last time when a child was swallowed by Diana’s Pool. According to local legend, the pool’s usually calm waters erupted in a fit of anger one fine afternoon, and the child disappeared from the gang of friends she had gone to swim with. She was later found in a deeper end of the pool, sitting face down with her head on her knees.
“The last person to disappear was my neighbour’s daughter,” said Kevin Nxumalo, the caretaker of the sacred pools.
“They live just at the foot of that mountain there,” he said, pointing a plump finger at the mountain nearest his homestead. The area around Diana’s Pools is mountainous, with beautiful majestic rocks exploding from the ground from every direction.
Located 70km south-east of Bulawayo, and 20km west off the main Bulawayo-Beitbridge road, the paths that lead to Diana’s Pool from Esibomvu after turning off on the 57,5km peg before Mawabeni, can be difficult to negotiate. When Sunday Life made its way down there, the roads, recently licked by some modest rains, zig-zagged and went up and down as if nature wanted to show that it could make sandy rollercoasters if it desired.
“They left as girls to bath and while the others were bathing, she refused to join them,” said Nxumalo describing the August afternoon that led to the last known disappearance at Diana’s Pool.
“When the others had finished their bathing, she then suddenly jumped in. From the moment she set foot on the water, she disappeared. You have to understand that these are mysterious waters. Sometimes when you arrive in the morning, you find the water dancing or sometimes you find it rising as if someone is pushing it up. There would be no wind. That child jumped in there and was never seen again. We had to call people from the sub-aqua unit. When they found her, she was in the deep end of the pool, sitting and holding her knees. We think something was holding her,” he said.
Such incidents have given Diana’s Pool, known also as Embizeni, notoriety. Instead of one pool, the area has several which vary in size. The smallest are as big as a large pothole while medium-sized ones look large enough for a mermaid to live in.
“This is called Embizeni because what you saw there are what younger people might call potholes. In our tradition we just call them pots. This place got its name after the wife of one of the senior white people who settled near here. She was the one who “found” this place while walking around. So, it took that name because white people wrote their history and milestones while ours were preserved in the head. But of course, there were people in this area before whites came who knew about this mystery.
“From then white people took an interest in it but we always had our traditions associated with the pools. Whenever we reach September with no rain, the old women from the community, those who don’t even bath anymore (go through the menstrual cycle), gather on the hottest of days and spend the day there. They sing and dance and carry branches of a tree called umsehla. They will be crying as they do so. That’s the cultural significance of the place. It is linked to rain making,” said Nxumalo.
Nxumalo, who has lived next to the pools since he was born in 1962, has seen the place turn to be the best kept secret among tourists that come to Bulawayo or Matabeleland South. He receives visitors, mostly white people looking for a swim in one of the pools, almost every day. When Sunday Life visited, a local young man was swimming seemingly without a care in the world.
“Children ask me, have you ever seen the mermaid? If you want me to end any discussion with you ask about injuzi. Just come to me and say grandfather is there someone in there? I will tell you what I have seen and the people that we lost in there. There was a white person who was taken in 1969 and came back dead. In 1972 another white woman went in and came back dead. That’s when we realised that place does not want white people. There is nothing we can do about that because this is a free country and anyone can do as they please. They also have their own ways of giving back to the pool. When you enter there, you greet and afterwards you say your goodbyes,” he said.
An elder with an encyclopedic knowledge of all landmarks in the area, Marko Sibanda said there was no doubt that there was a mermaid in the pool.
“It’s called koThobela. There are incredible ceremonies that we hold there. It has always been a respected place. It’s a place of culture and it has customs. When we were growing up, we were told that you could hear cows mooing, people whistling all the while there was no one in there. We don’t deny that there are mermaids. Not everyone is lucky enough to see a mermaid. I don’t doubt because I have known the supernatural things that have taken place there. For example, on the mountain Zaza you hear a sound like metal objects banging whenever we are about to have rain,” he said.
Kope, Mbilambowo, Makungubo, Mlomoliwoto, Bhokomela, Nkudlana, Mahanka, Nkwenkule, Gcombo, Tshalimbe, Vava — the names of the mountains that look down on his homestead from a distance rolled off the tongue of the 69-year-old. But his passionate description of the landscape could not compare to the way he waxed lyrical about the spirit that lived in the water.
“There are many cars that have fallen in those pools. If you get divers, you’ll find them and there has also been a lot of white people that have drowned in there. That’s why that place is still respected as it has always been respected. There are trees that grow there that are not supposed to be cut and we teach children that,” he said.
Sibanda, a traditional dancer, despairs at what he believes is a loss of cultural values by his community. He is shamed for being a dancer and the world around him is changing. A cellphone booster even now sits on one of the mountains that he grew up gazing at.
Nxumalo agrees that people have lost respect for some customs. A tree that fell down on its own near the pool did not do so innocently. It is evidence that the spirits are angry.
“They get angry because we have forgotten our values. I was looking in the fields and the crops are not as good as hoped. The hunger will force people to remember their customs,” he said.
For now, the recent rains have painted the hillsides green and cattle graze with abandon. The relief brought by the February rains is not enough to make Nxumalo forget about the wonder of Diana’s Pools.
“It’s our watch. It tells me when we’re about to get rain. When it is about to rain the water starts spilling from the pools downwards. I know then it’s only a matter of seven or so days before we get significant rain. I don’t know what causes this. The place never dries up. Since 1962 when I was born it has never dried up. I found it like that and elders before me told me that they also found it like that,” he said.