By Robin Muchetu
Tucked in the valleys of the Matobo Hills, Matabeleland South Province is Dobi Village under Chief Gwebu, a rocky place, not too easy to navigate in a small vehicle but rich in clean air and eye-catching scenery.
An 87-year-old grey-haired man looks towards the entrance of his homestead, trying to make out the identity of two visitors — a Sunday News crew — being led into the yard by his young niece.
We shout pleasantries to announce our presence in his territory while standing at a distance and he makes his way to a round hut where a fire had been lit and wants us to sit around it so as to keep warm. The niece fetches two chairs.
We ask to sit outside in light of Covid-19 that has been wreaking havoc in communities.
After introducing ourselves, the old man, Mr Leonard Bhebhe drops his head and says he is the “father” to Mlibazisi Bhebhe, a fugitive on the run after allegedly raping an unknown number of girls at Rhodes Estate Preparatory School (Reps) in Matobo District.
Two pupils came out in the open about the rape with five others also alleged to have been his victims. The rape was reported 25 days after it occurred, raising a lot of stink as to why school officials failed to report it as soon as it occurred.
“Ngumzukulu, umntwana womnt’anami. Mlibazisi was born here at my home, he is my daughters’ son together with Simingenkosi his sister. Mlibazisi’s father was absent basically but his mother left a long, long time ago. Mlibazisi is actually born from the Mathe clan, but I used my clan’s name to get him registered. I raised the boy, he is my son, I am the father he knows. Inkaba yakhe is buried here,” he said.
Mr Bhebhe said although he has not seen Mlibazisi in a while, he got wind of the alleged rape but could not authenticate the matter.
“When something happens, we may hear about it but once the owner of the matter is not there, there is nothing we can say. It is all hearsay for now, we do not know what happened. We are all speculating so far. Mlibazisi never set foot here since the ordeal, he was last here a long time ago, he was staying at the school, where he started working when he was a young boy. Unfortunately, he never built a home here in the village,” said Mr Bhebhe.
Asked on who Mlibazisi really was, Mr Bhebhe said he was just a regular respectful village boy.
“Growing up Mlibazisi was an upright child learning at Dobi Primary, I never was called to school for any trouble. I was shocked when I heard he had forced himself on some students. I am still troubled though as to what happened. It bothers me day in and day out, it hurts me so much that such a thing happened.
“I am a Christian worshipping at ZCC, I do not know where this problem came from, we raised him well, maybe God has forsaken me because this is unheard of, but I know one day the truth will come out. I raised Mlibazisi and he was a very technical person and I assumed he would be an electrician one day because he would assemble things with motors and they would work. So, we felt he would be an electrician. He was a good boy,” he added.
Mr Bhebhe said contrary to reports that Mlibazisi’s wife had come to Dobi, as she was not at their Reps compound, she had not.
“I think she may have gone to her village, it’s unfortunate that we do not know where she comes from, we had not sent a go-between to negotiate bride price so we don’t know where her people are. Mlibazisi met her at Reps and they had children together but with no formalities. I had told him though that we needed to go and sort out the matter,” he lamented.
According to Mr Bhebhe, he heard that Mlibazisi was reprimanding some two students and they then reported that he tried to force himself on them.
“It will catch up with him one day, it may be true that he committed the said crime, akula geza elingela sici (no one is perfect) and again God does not slumber. Akula qili elazikhotha emhlane. It will catch up with him,” he said gazing into the horizon with watery eyes.
He, however, said someone should be aware of his whereabouts.
“Engaphuma njengomvundla? Those people at the school should know where he could be, they are also his friends, they interacted, so they should know where he is or they are hiding him, I do not know,” he said.
Mr Bhebhe took a swipe at law enforcers saying crimes are not being solved fast enough these days.
“I was a police officer, that was my first job and it was still British South Africa Police, and we solved crimes very quickly and the truth would be out but now it’s different,” he said.
Before embarking on the treacherous drive from Dobi Village, we bade farewell to the troubled Mr Bhebhe who had earlier been complaining of the cold weather.
“Wherever Mlibazisi and his wife are, it is my prayers that they are safe,” he said. The Sunday News