The Sunday Mail
IN a fortnight, Roy Moyana of Warren Park D in Harare will face a defining moment in his life.
As a karateka, he is set to take part in an important grading competition he must win at all costs. To realise his dream, he has been conducting training sessions for the past three weeks right in the middle of Warren Hills Cemetery, which is a stone’s throw away from his home.
Together with his training partner, he has turned part of this Harare City Council-owned cemetery into a “dojo” — a karate training place. Moyana, whose training schedule often begins very early in the morning or late in the evening, finds nothing unusual in conducting training sessions in such a sacred place.
“At first, it was a bit awkward. I am, however, used to conducting the training sessions. Stories about ghost sightings in the cemetery have been told, but I told myself that nothing, even the said ghosts, will stand in my way,” he said.
Some few metres away from him was a group of mostly heavily-built women who were huffing and puffing as they were conducting rhythmic aerobic exercises as part of a weight-loss programme.
Some of the participants had their belongings hanging from a nearby tombstone. As was the case with Moyana, Rose, one of the ladies, defended her decision to turn the graveyard into a gym.
“This cemetery is an integral part of my life. I come here almost every day. As you can see, I am very fit and this high level of fitness came from jogging around these graves,” she said casually.
Over the years, Warren Park and Westlea residents have turned the unsecured Warren Hills Cemetery into a training ground and at times a picnic area and love nest.
Sportspersons, together with health and fitness enthusiasts, are descending on the graveyard in droves. One of the many young people that were jogging around the graves said those that are making an issue out of this were “old-fashioned”.
Apart from the health and fitness enthusiasts, impatient motorists are also driving right through the cemetery to avoid congestion at the Warren Park round-about during peak hours. But is it proper for the living to constantly “mingle” with the dead?
Pastor Johnson Kufazvinei of the House of Glory Ministries said there is nothing wrong with athletes using the cemetery as a training ground.
“The Bible has a ready and very clear answer to your question. The dead are not in a position to know what is happening in the land of the living,” he said.
He quoted Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, which read: “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.”
However, Bishop Cuthbert Nyaruvenda, a faith healer and president of the Zimbabwe National Practitioners Association, is of a different opinion.
“Restless evil spirits roam around graveyards and those that hang around cemeteries are at risk of getting associated with them. Graveyards are no-go areas,” Bishop Nyaruvenda, who is the founder of Sangano Dzvene Revapostori Church, said.
Sekuru Cainos Matema, a traditional healer and hardcore traditionalist, agrees.
“Cemeteries must never be turned into recreational areas. In the African culture, cemeteries are places that must be avoided. It is a pity that some people are adopting some traits that fly right in the face of our culture and traditions,” he said.
Pius Mudziwembiri, whose brother was buried at the cemetery, is not amused by the goings-on at Warren Hills.
“Last time, there were personal belongings on my brother’s grave. Whoever put his things and destroyed part of the grave was disrespectful. The dead must be left alone so that they rest in peace,” Mudziwembiri said.
Harare Residents Trust executive director Mr Precious Shumba said the lack of social amenities is forcing residents to do things they would not do under normal circumstances.
“The Harare City Council has ensured that residents do not have recreational facilities within their suburbs. Land designated for recreational facilities and services, including open spaces, have been sold and converted into residential stands.
“The fact that people are going into the Warren Hills Cemetery to do exercises shows that they have no options left to them. It is a desperate situation and clearly tells us that there is greater need for recreational facilities,” Mr Shumba said.
Mr Innocent Ruwende, the Harare City Council acting spokesperson, had not responded to questions sent to him by the time of going to print. In its heyday, the Warren Hills Cemetery, which falls under the Harare City Council’s Department of Housing and Community Services, used to be one of the country’s most premier, elegant and dignified resting places.