Brave villagers ransacked a dark hut in southern Zimbabwe in search of a deadly snake as their neighbour lay dying from its bite.
Bernard Masikati, 55, was bitten on the heel by a 3.1 metre-long black mamba which had slithered into his hut in Gono village earlier this month.
Nurses at a nearby clinic in the remote rural area of southern Masvingo province said they could do nothing and sent him home.
While Masikati lay dying, ten of his neighbours waged a grim and extremely dangerous battle to try to trap the snake inside the hut and kill it.
Recognised by their distinctive “coffin-shaped” heads, black mambas are one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most venomous snakes.
Unlike many other snakes, which will avoid confrontation if at all possible, black mambas can be aggressive and will bite their attackers.
Victims die within hours of a bite if enough venom has been injected.
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Masikati, who was single, had gone into his hut in the daytime to fetch some cornmeal used to make Zimbabwe’s staple sadza dish, according to reports from local people.
“After the attack, Masikati started foaming from the mouth before experiencing breathing difficulties,” the local newspaper reported yesterday.
“He was later taken to a local clinic where nurses who attended to him ruled out any chances of him surviving.
“Medical staff then instructed his relatives to take Masikati home to patiently wait for God’s opportune time.
“While waiting for his pre-announced death, about ten daring villagers gathered courage and ransacked his bedroom hut where they trapped the snake and killed it.”
Rural homesteads in Zimbabwe often comprise separate kitchen and bedroom huts, usually thatched.
Masikati had told his neighbours he would die “a happy man” if they could only kill the snake first but the battle to trap the deadly reptile lasted six hours.
The villagers only managed to subdue it by pouring boiling water repeatedly on its head, according to Taurai Matarutse, a family relative.
He confirmed the victim died soon after the snake was killed.
Matarutse said: “We gathered courage and trapped it inside his bedroom hut and fought it for about six hours. To our surprise soon after killing it, Bernard also breathed his last.”
Black mambas – which are actually brown but named for the inky-black colour inside their mouths – are widespread in low-lying areas of Zimbabwe, especially in the south of the country.
Local doctors say bite victims need to be put immediately on life support machines but outside the capital Harare this is often impossible.
Without treatment, victims die between five and ten hours later after generalised paralysis has set in.
Snake experts do not recommend trying to trap black mambas – and say that if you come face-to-face with one in the African bush you should not move.
“If a black mamba gets into a house, you should open the door so it can get out,” a snake removal expert in Harare told The Scotsman yesterday.
“You don’t see them in built-up areas. There are none in Harare. They’re very shy. They only attack if they are cornered,” said the reptile expert.
Villagers burned the snake’s body after traditional leaders objected to it being buried with Masikati.
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