NORTON, Zimbabwe (Reuter) - A dispute between a white Zimbabwean farmer and a black spirit medium pitting African traditional religious beliefs against Christian practices is threatening to become a racial and land dispute.
The dispute erupted after the farmer, Ross Hinde, ordered the spirit medium, Botemupote Mushore, off his land and painted Christian slogans on huge boulders surrounding the medium's shrine which is located on his farm, 64 miles southwest of the capital Harare.
Mushore called on the Zimbabwean government to have the area declared a national monument.
The farmer painted the slogans in red, a color signifying evil, violence and war to Zimbabwe's majority Shona people, and he told people to pray to a Christian God, not spirits.
Hinde, who also erected 12 crucifixes, including one on the top of a rocky hill less than a mile from the medium's village, claimed that he was trying to have the traditional spirits "bound'' by his Christian God.
He also fenced the entrance to the hills and put a small gate with a cross above it "so that people have to bow to Jesus before they enter the area.''
Access to parts of the hills was traditionally restricted to spirit mediums and Mushore said Hinde's actions were antagonistic and racist.
"He (Hinde) is trying to be superior to us and there's definitely racism there,'' Mushore told Reuters in Shona through an interpreter.
Mushore, who said his ancestors occupied the place from long before Zimbabwe was colonized by whites, said Hinde had desecrated the grave of a black chief and removed traditional artifacts from the shrine.
Blacks outnumber whites 100-to-one in this southern African state of 10 million people.
No comment could be obtained from government officials. However, the state-owned Herald daily newspaper quoted a member of parliament Saturday saying the Home Affairs and Lands ministries were discussing the issue.
The Herald also supported the spirit medium's appeal and urged the government to consider granting it, saying in an editorial that the farmer's actions were contemptuous of African traditions and culture.
"There is nothing wrong in the farm owner not believing what the blacks in the area believe. What is wrong is his spitting on the African traditions and openly pouring scorn on them. Many Christian blacks in this country, who, incidentally, far outnumber white believers, are traditionalists,'' it said.
"It is not nice that local traditions are treated with such contempt. If the relevant authorities cannot read the farm owner the riot act, then Mbuya Nehanda (a Shona spirit medium) help us,'' it added.
Some anthropologists said that if the area was declared a national monument it would create a serious precedent for Zimbabwe's commercial farmers because there are thousands of similar sacred sites on farms dotted around the country.
This is the first known clash of its kind in recent Zimbabwean history.
Zimbabwe has been fairly racially stable since it attained independence from Britain in 1980 but over the past five years the majority blacks have been growing increasingly restive at continued dominance of the economy and ownership of fertile land by the white minority.