Two elderly women died in Zimbabwe after their families accused them of being witches and encouraged them to drink a mystery liquid to cleanse their souls, it was reported Thursday.
Jersey Mutero, 83, and Erita Bhebhe, 73, collapsed moments after swallowing the poisonous drink during a ceremony near their homes.
The New Zimbabwe website reported that a local healer had gone on the run following the deaths last Saturday in a rural village in the country’s Midlands province.
The publication reported that the victims’ families had visited the self-styled pastor for help after a young girl fell sick.
Police believe relatives of the elderly pair feared the women had been possessed by demons and were responsible for the illness.
Local police spokesman Emmanuel Mahoko said traditional healer Maxwell Pira summoned both pensioners to a gathering before passing round a mystery liquid in a cup.
The officer said: ‘Pira gathered all family members and started praying for them.
‘He also said prayers for a liquid which he called “holy water”.
‘He instructed all the family members to drink the water which was passed around in a cup, but warned that those responsible for the sickness of the young girl should not drink the concoction as they would die.’
Inspector Mahoko added: ‘The two elderly women drank the liquid but collapsed almost immediately.
‘They were put on a scotch cart but died on the way to hospital.’
Officials confirmed the two women’s bodies were taken for post-mortem examinations.
Detectives have launched an investigation to confirm the cause of death and to establish the contents of the liquid.
New Zimbabwe reported that Pira had vanished after the tragedy and was believed to be on the run.
Inspector Mahoko told the publication the suspect faced two charges of murder.
Belief in witchcraft remains prevalent in many parts of Africa, where people often balance organized religion with traditional belief systems.