Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Singing Zombie

There's a famous story from Haiti in which a man believed to be dead returned to his family, claiming that he had been turned into a zombie and forced to work on a plantation for years. Family members were at first skeptical, but eventually came to accept that the man was who he said he was. He seemed to have some sort of cognitive impairment, but given his ordeal that wasn't seen as surprising. As it turned out, though, evidence finally came to light showing that the man was not who he claimed to be, but rather a different individual who had assumed the identity of the deceased. This discovery cast doubt on the man's entire story, which included a number of outlandish elements that conformed to zombie folklore but were supported by no hard evidence.

One would think that this sort of confidence game would not work if the person being impersonated was a famous celebrity, but as it turns out someone is trying to do just that in South Africa. A man turned up last week claiming to be well-known folk singer Khulekani "Mgqumeni" Khumalo, who died in 2009. At a public appearance, he recounted a bizarre tale reminiscent of the one told in Haiti years earlier.

"I am Mgqumeni. And I know that some of you might not believe, but yes, it's true – it is me," the man told his audience. He said he had been a victim of witchcraft and that the zombies had forced him to sing and eat mud during his ordeal. He claimed to have woken up in a field in Johannesburg last week before finally making his way back home.

"I have been suffering a lot at the place where I was kept with zombies. It was hell there and I am so grateful that I was able to free myself and return to my family and you, my supporters," he said. Police reportedly resorted to using water cannon in an attempt to contain the crowds vying to catch a glimpse of the man.

So could it be true? Could South Africa be the home of mud-eating zombies dredged forth from the grave? As it turns out, South Africa is a much more modern nation than Haiti was back when the original story was being spun, and evidence of the man's duplicity was much more forthcoming.

But a police spokesman, Colonel Jay Naicker, said fingerprint samples had proven the man's claims to be false. The suspect was due to appear before Nquthu magistrates' court yesterday.

So there you have it. No South African mud-eating zombies in sight. On the other hand, given Mgqumeni's fame it's pretty amazing that anyone would have the nerve to try and pull something like this off. Not only that, but as you can see in the photographs above the man bears only a passing resemblance to the deceased singer. The real Mgqumeni is shown on the left, while the imposter is shown on the right.

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