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Toppling of Zimbabwe's Colonial-Era 'Hanging Tree' Seen as Harbinger

Legend has it that the nation’s ancestral grandmother, Mbuya Nehanda, was hanged from the tree in 1898 – leading the superstitious to wonder if the toppling of the landmark signals the start of a new era

Zimbabwean traditional leaders on Friday were organizing ceremonies meant to ward off the potential negative consequences of the accidental destruction by Harare city workers of the colonial-era "Hanging Tree," an icon of indigenous resistance to colonizers.

The Msasa tree, a national monument, was knocked over Wednesday by a municipal truck leading the superstitious to see an omen of bad things to come.

Legend says Mbuya Nehanda, the nation's ancestral grandmother and an early activist in resistance to colonization by mainly British settlers, was hanged from the tree in 1898 – though historians say she was in fact executed in a prison courtyard.

A witchdoctor and a woman calling herself the new Mbuya Nehanda performed rites over the split trunk and gnarled branches on Thursday and demanded homage be paid and forgiveness sought at Nehanda's grave site north of Harare for the destruction of the tree. Passers-by took bits of the devastated tree for mementos.

Harare residents expressed regret at the loss of the tree.

Charakupa Simplicious Ngwerume, a councilor to Chief Seke, in whose jurisdiction the tree stood, said discussions are under way for proper traditional rites to be performed to save the country from potentially negative consequences of the uprooting.

Harare resident Tendai Friday said he is sad the tree is no longer there.

In other traditional matters, lawyers representing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told Chief Negomo of Chiweshe, Mashonaland Central province, that Mr. Tsvangirai will not appear before the chief’s village court on Saturday as Negomo has demanded.

Ngoma summoned Mr. Tsvangirai earlier this week saying the leader had violated Shona tradition by allegedly marrying Locadia Tembo in November, a sacred month.

Mr. Tsvangirai has stated that he did not marry Tembo despite claims by her family that he paid lobola or a bride price in a marriage ceremony last month.

Tsvangirai lawyer Selby Hwacha told Negomo in a letter that his client is not obliged to submit to the chief's authority as he does not live in Negomo’s jurisdiction.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted Negomo saying he would go ahead with the hearing even if Mr. Tsvangirai failed to show up. Other reports this week said Negomo threatened to have Mr. Tsvangirai arrested if he did not appear.

Officials of Mr. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party said Chief Negomo is acting on behalf of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.