The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu/Rumbidzai Mhlanga, Sunday Life Reporters
WHEN Sister Plaxedes Kamundiya arrived at Mother of Peace Community in Mutoko (Mashonaland East) on the morning of 22 October, she had charity in her mind.
Upon meeting fellow Catholic sister Juliet Haurovi, she indicated that she wanted to facilitate another trip for the following week and during that next visit she would bring donations for orphans under the community’s care.
As the two sisters talked that late October morning, punctuating their discussions with praise and worship, Sister Kamundiya learnt about the Blue Cross, more commonly known as the Glorious Cross of Life.
Something about this place located on a mountain 80 metres from Mother of Peace, fascinated Sister Kamundiya. She wanted to make a pilgrimage to the secluded shrine and before the cross, pray to her Maker.
That would be the last time Sister Haurovi would see her fellow prayer warrior. Sister Kamundiya’s body would be discovered a few days later, floating in Mutemwa Dam.
Her killer, the then 20-year-old Enock Potani, would be found lingering on the same cross that Kamundiya had her lone and final pilgrimage to. The golden Catholic dress that Sister Kamundiya wore on 22 October would also soon be found, stained with her blood, stuffed inside a white sack together with her shoes, bra and hair band.
The sack belonged to Potani, who also owned the suitcase in which three panties, and a bra were also discovered. It was thought that Potani had raped the nun before killing her and raping her again.
Potani led police as they searched for Sister Kamundiya’s belongings. He also led them to a large stone stained by Sister Kamundiya’s blood.
This was the murder weapon that had brought an end to the life of a 49-year-old woman who had first considered becoming a nun at age 14.
In 1990, at 20, she had taken her first vows and six years later she took her final vows. She had meant to be a nun for life.
It seemed for all intents and purposes, to be an open and shut case. It was a case that raised a nation’s anger, with the tide of that anger sweeping even through the country’s highest offices and corridors. After the brutal murder at the hands of the 20-year-old, former President Mugabe, himself a Catholic, even called for the return of the death penalty.
However, when Judge Erica Ndewere gave her verdict on the case about a fortnight ago, Potani was “freed’’. This amazing turn of events was attributed to Potani’s state of mind at the time he committed the crime.
“My examination revealed that Enock Potani started showing symptoms of mental disorder in 2013. He would burn houses and property, shout at people and bath continuously. Medical certificates done at the time show that he had paranoid delusions (excessive suspiciousness), auditory and visual hallucinations, hearing and seeing things not there.
“At the time of the alleged offence he was mentally disordered which prevented him from appreciating the wrongfulness of his actions. I examined him, he is now of sound mind,” said Dr Patience Mavinganidze, the medical professional that examined Potani.
With the public demanding its pound of flesh, it seemed like Potani was getting away with murder. For medical professionals that have to study and make judgments on whether those who commit such gruesome crimes are of sound mind, the public outcry that followed and the blame that doctors have to shoulder seemed unjustified.
According to one such professional Dr Nemache Mawere, there is a lack of understanding about how the process works.
“Mentally ill patients are not set free after committing a crime, they are stages taken. Doctors examine the patient, depending on the level of the crime for instance there is level seven and below, these are minor crimes like stealing a pie or beating up someone where the fine is less than $20. They let the person go for treatment so they discharge them immediately and that is according to the law.
So mentally challenged people can be released without even going to court for committing minor crimes according to Section 30 or Section 8,” Dr Mawere said.
When the crime is severe however, the psychiatric professionals keep a closer watch for longer.
“But when it is a serious issue like murder and other serious issues they take them to court and they produce their papers and either by the way they behave in court or they have records showing that they have a problem, we are certified that one has a mental problem. After realising that one has a mental problem they are then taken to hospital whereby they are examined by two doctors to confirm the mental illness. After that they are then taken to Mlondolozi (prison) where they are then treated by a psychiatrist.
“Ideally the law says one should have recovered within 28 days but that is not possible. So we keep them there for a month or two. When you recover you are then taken to court where the prosecutor decides whether the case is minor or not.
If it is minor then the State does not pursue the case therefore, one is released. We get facts from the police and family members to try and understand whether one committed the crime while they were mentally unwell or not,” Dr Mawere said.
Despite this however, Dr Mawere acknowledged that the system was not entirely foolproof and one could get away with murder if they already had a history of mental illness. When Potani appeared before Magistrate Mrs Rumbidzai Mugwagwa last November he flew into a fit of rage and had to be restrained by prison officers. He said he did not understand how he as a mental patient, was under the court’s scrutiny.
“There are always loopholes, one can be normal when committing a crime then the trauma that they experience after committing that crime might cause them to be mentally ill. Sometimes if one has a mental history they can claim insanity and get away with it.
When the psychiatrist confirms that one is mentally ill the judge says one has a mental illness and they are then judged under section 29 where one gets what is called a special verdict as a Criminal mental patient,” Dr Mawere said.
Before Potani waylaid Sister Kamundiya, he already had mental issues known to the community in his home area. According to Ingutsheni Central Hospital Clinical director Dr Wellington Ranga, part of the problem was that mental illness was not nipped in the bud, with people only getting outraged when it was already too late.
“I look at this problem like a mathematical equation . . . the problem should not be addressed when a person has already committed a crime. The community should see that this person has a problem in the early stages before it comes to the latter stages. Secondly, it is the responsibility of those that take in that person back to make sure that the person continues taking medication because most default on their medication and end up suffering a relapse,” he said.
After his process of rehabilitation is complete, Potani will have to go back to the same community that had to pick up the pieces after his gruesome act. No matter how long that process takes, finding people willing to forget his bloody past will be tough.
What is for certain is that for the family Ruvadiki, as Kamundiya was known, life will never be the same after their flower was violently plucked while it was in full bloom.
“Maybe the model that we’re currently using in Zimbabwe may not be working entirely. What is currently lacking is for the community to decide what to do with these individuals after it has been determined that they’re mentally ill. Right now we try to integrate them back into the community after treatment but this does not work because if someone murders my father how then do I welcome them back?
“One thing that you have to realise is that most of those who go on to commit serious crimes are repeat offenders and they usually kill family members. The system wants people to reintegrate into communities but that is not easy. It’s a bit controversial because some argue that people should be reintegrated into society while others say we should institutionalise them forever,” said Dr Ranga.