Leroy Dzenga, Features Writer
The weather corresponded with the mood.
An overcast sky and warm humid air that made it difficult to breathe underlined the gloom which was palpable on the day.
Zimbabwe had suffered a loss.
In a chapel of one of Zimbabwe`s funeral companies, two of the finest rangers within the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) rank were lying dead, murdered in the line of duty.
Far from home, only a handful of family members for the pair were present. Zimparks staffers made up most of the audience.
With a feint piano roll in the background, a story was told of how a heroic capture of two poacher groups backfired tragically for the pair who were stationed at Matusadonha National Park.
On December 31, while the rest of the world partied its way into the new year, Chidhumo Mabharani (49) and Timothy Tembo (35) were on call.
Their task, to protect Zimbabwean wildlife from marauding poachers some crossing into Zimbabwe from Zambia.
Zimparks Cluster Manager Sebungwe Region Midwell Kapesa narrated how the two men met their demise.
“They went on a patrol on the day and they captured two groups. One group had four Zambians and the other one had seven Zimbabweans,” Kapesa said.
Although the captures were said to have happened at Matusadonha National Park, close to Sanyati, the captives had to be transported to Kariba Town where they were to be surrendered to law enforcement for prosecution procedures.
Matusadona National Park is in northern Zimbabwe situated on the southern shore of Lake Kariba, near Sampakaruma.
“The two went to their base (at Changa Island) to change and do preliminary processing before they went to Kariba where all administrative cases are taken. Unfortunately, our rangers left their service pistols at the base and that left them vulnerable,” Kapesa said.
Going to Kariba by road would have taken longer than using a boat, since it meant going to Karoi then connect to Kariba, so the rangers opted to take the poachers by water.
“Tembo and Mabharani were in close contact with the Kariba team as they travelled with the captured poachers for further management. The team in Kariba was already waiting for them with a car,” said Kapesa.
Rangers in Kariba lost contact with the pair, a trip which was supposed to take about an hour took longer than usual, raising alarm bells.
“Our Kariba team tried calling and there was no response on the radio communication devices they use. After three hours that is when it was declared that something was wrong and alarm bells were rang,” Kapesa said.
After seeing that there was no response and the boat was not in sight, a joint search team including the Zimbabwe Republic Police sub aqua unit was assembled.
On Monday 5 January, the search squad managed to retrieve the bodies of the two ZimParks rangers between Spurning and Long Islands in Lake Kariba.
They reportedly had their hands tied behind their backs and had multiple stab wounds.
No one is sure what really happened after communication was lost, save for deductions based on the state the duo and the boat they were on was in.
Could an adherence with rules have cost them their lives?
Addressing mourners, Zimparks Director General Fulton Mangwanya said there is need to look at some of the laws in anti-poaching and adjust them to serve conservation.
“We will be lobbying with the authorities to try and change some of the conservation laws that are there. There is a law which says poachers or prisoners being moved on water cannot be handcuffed. The poachers could have taken their chances and attacked our rangers because they were unrestrained,” Mangwanya said.
There is belief that the Zambian poachers were not ordinary civilians and were trained, even the state the boat was found in suggests the same.
It was found without an engine in Zambia near Siyavonga.
The cowardly murders leave behind families in distress as the rangers were breadwinners in their respective families.
Mabharani missed an opportunity to watch his six-year-old twins start primary school.
In an interview with The Herald, Kameni Mabharani young brother to the deceased said they have lost a bread winner.
“Our brother left behind two children and a wife he loved dearly. I am hurt he did not get a chance to see his twins grow, but that is what God decided and we have to obey,” Mabharani said.
Chidhumo Mabharani who had served Zimparks since 1999 was buried in Gokwe.
After 17 years of diligently executing his duties, he met his untimely death in a cruel manner.
Many including work colleagues are struggling to come to terms with the double blow. A blow not only to the families or Zimparks but to the whole country.
They were both described as incorruptible rangers who were passionate about their jobs and country.
American writer Charles Jefferson said; “Patriotism is a thing of the heart.
A man is a patriot if his heart beats true to his country.”
Zimbabwe lost men whose hearts beat for their country and they died in its defence, real conservation heroes.
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Burial story on Page 7