Within the lore and history of actual sightings of mermaids and various merbeings all over the world, these creatures have come in a surprisingly wide array of forms. There are the beautiful maidens of legend with their flowing hair and fishtails, the more ape-like fish beasts of other traditions, and pretty much everything in between. Dispositions range all over the place as well, with merbeings running the gamut from seductive sirens, to benevolent protectors of the sea, to shy and reclusive things only fleetingly seen, to vicious, savage monsters that can only be described as sinister and evil. Of the many places from which merbeings are reported, one place that definitely has the latter is the continent of Africa. Here on the Dark Continent, “mermaids” are considered to be far from mere legend, and also seem to be rather far from benevolent.
Many regions of Africa have a rich tradition of mermaids, particularly in the southern portion of the continent. In the country of Zimbabwe mermaids have long featured prominently in various myths and legends, where they are often called the Mondao and are portrayed as malicious creatures that enjoy pulling bathers or swimmers under the waves to their death. Although many see such tales as just spooky lore, there are apparently quite a few Zimbabweans who believe that they actually exist, and incidents or sightings involving mermaids often crop up here.
In 2012, work being carried out at the Gokwe dam in Midlands and the Osborne dam in Manicaland, on reservoirs near the towns of Gokwe, Manicaland, and Mutare, was suspended because workers refused to go to work because they claimed to have been terrorized by the mermaids lurking there, which were said to look like pale-skinned humans with black hair and fish tails. The workers were originally supposed to do repairs and install water pumps there, but became frightened when some people in the area mysteriously vanished and others reported being attacked or chased by these merbeings. Things with the stalled project got so bad that the Zimbabwe Water Resources Minister, Sam Sipepa Nkomo, appeared before a parliamentary committee to explain the situation. Nkomo said that white workers had been brought in because they were not as steeped in such lore, but even they claimed to have spotted the creatures and also refused to go back to work. Rural and Urban Development Minister Ignatius Chombo also made arrangements to have tribal chiefs of the area perform rites and rituals to appease the creatures, if only to put the workers’ minds at ease.
According to the tribal leaders who were consulted, many lakes and reservoirs of the region are inhabited by mermaids, and dams seem to be a favorite place for them to congregate, although they were said to be typically drawn to larger dams than the ones that had been plagued, such as the huge dam at Lake Kariba, which is a hotbed of such sightings. When faced with the question of whether they thought these creatures really exist, they were unanimous and adamant in their assertion that they do. When asked if the mermaids of Zimbabwe’s lakes were real, one chief Edison Chihota of Mashonaland East said “As a custodian of the traditional I have no doubt. For anyone to dispute this is also disputing him or herself.” For his part, Nkomo was more worried about that the fact that the workers refused to come back, and was going through with the rituals merely to dispel fears. He was skeptical that their problems were being caused by literal mermaids, blaming it on a mix of superstition perhaps combined with optical illusions and dangerous water currents. He would say of the matter:
In Mutare what I think is happening is that there must be a sanction underneath there which creates a hole and the water will actually be swirling violently that if you fell in you will not come out, even if you had an oxygen mask.
Another African nation in the same general region which has long experienced mermaid phenomena is South Africa. Such tales and lore go back for centuries here, and ancient rock paintings of humanoids with fish tails drawn by the Khoi-san people of the region have been found in one of the most arid areas of the country, in a vast barren, semi-desert wasteland known as the Karoo. Just why this desert dwelling people would have mermaids as part of their lore remains a mystery, but the region did once lie underwater, and there have been sightings of such creatures reported from the greener and more fertile Klein Karoo to the south, where mountain spring water creates pools and even water filled caverns where the creatures are said to live. These mountain dwelling mermaids are in no way friendly, and have long been said to lure travelers to the water in order to drown them. These creatures are typically not seen as flesh and blood creatures, but rather as powerful spirits or demons, and are greatly revered and feared by tribes of the area.
In some areas of South Africa mermaids are often called the Kaaiman, interestingly from the German word for "caiman," and are typically described as a race of malevolent creatures that drown their victims and are typically described as looking like half-fish women with black hair and glowing red eyes. One sighting report comes from 2008, at the quaint and isolated rural village of Suurbraak. Local witness Daniel Cupido claimed that he had been hanging out with some friends along the banks of the Buffelsjags River on the evening of January 5 when they suddenly heard a curious sound coming from a nearby low water bridge that sounded like someone “bashing on a wall.” When they went to investigate, it is claimed that in the murky darkness under the bridge they could make out what looked like a white woman with long black hair. The woman seemed to be in trouble, as she was thrashing about in the water, and Cupido allegedly waded into the water to try and help her out, but moments later came running back in a state of panic.
When his friends asked him what had happened he told them that the woman’s eyes had had a red, flickering glow to them, and that her gaze had been “hypnotic.” One of the friends, a Martin Olckers, went over to see the thing for himself, and claims that what he saw profoundly scared him. There swimming through the water around the bridge he could see the same woman who his friend had described, complete with the red shine in her eyes. He said that the figure was definitely female and that the whole time he watched her she made a sound reminiscent of crying, which he described as “the strangest sound.” The mermaid was also said to have an ethereal silver-white sheen around it. Although they say none of those present had ever believed in the stories of the Kaaiman before, this bizarre encounter apparently convinced them that the creatures were real. None of them were found to have been drinking alcohol, and all of them seemed genuinely unsettled by the experience.
Other reports from South Africa showcase the creature’s more sinister tendencies. On December 31, 2015, a 12-year-old boy named Siyabonga Masango in Mpumalanga, South Africa, reportedly went to the bank of a tributary of the Sabie River to meet his friends for a swim and never returned. When authorities were brought in and the area searched, no sign of the boy was turned up despite an intensive investigation by diving teams. Although police blamed strong currents in the river at the time or a crocodile attack for Masango’s disappearance, the boy’s family explained to them that the boy had been kidnapped by mermaid, an assertion backed up by another eyewitness who claimed that he had seen the boy pulled into the water by the pale-skinned creature. The witness claimed that he had then gone to try to help the boy but that he had completely disappeared into the muddy, murky water, pulled in by something that very well could have been coiling to lash out at him as well.
Another evil mermaid is said to lurk about Marikana dam, the near the town of Mabopane, north of Pretoria, and has been blamed for at least one death there. Known to the locals as the Mamogashwa, it is described as being half-human and half-fish, with the upper body resembling a woman. The strange merbeing has supposedly been seen prowling about the waters of the dam on numerous occasions, as well as being spotted several times basking on the banks of the lake, and is believed by the locals to not only cause drownings, but also to induce bad dreams in the villagers.
In one recent account from an article from the Rekord North news site, 15-year-old Mpho Shongwe was out by the dam with some friends in April of 2016 when they saw what they thought to be a woman swimming in the water, who beckoned them closer. As they approached, they allegedly noticed that this was no ordinary woman, and that from the waist down she had the body and tail of a fish. The frightened kids then tried to run away, and that was when the creature supposedly lurched up from the water to grab Shongwe and pull him under the surface as he screamed for help. When other alarmed villagers arrived to help out, the boy’s lifeless body was purportedly found lying a few meters from the dam, but there was no sign of the mermaid the other boys claimed to have seen. According to the article, this is apparently not the only death that the mermaid has been responsible for, and a village resident named Elsie Nhlapo was quoted as saying in the wake of the attack on Shonwe:
We told the police about the mermaid but they are afraid to go there to investigate. Three people that I am aware of, two kids and an adult were killed at the dam but police have refused to go near the dam.
One of the weirder accounts of a mermaid in South Africa is the totally bonkers tale of a mermaid that was supposedly seen flying through the sky in November of 2014 in the city of Tshwane, and here is where we get into some surreal territory. The mermaid was allegedly sighted flying over the Morula Sun Shopping Complex parking lot from the direction of the Morula Sun Casino and was seen by several witnesses. The mermaid is said to be a long-time nuisance of the area, occasionally taking the form of a woman to go to the casino and complain about the noise before slinking back off to the water, but this seems to be the first time it was seen to fly. One witness said of the situation:
I heard people gasp and scream. There was a mermaid in the air. It came from the direction of the Morula Sun Casino. When I was a child, we were told a mermaid lived in a nearby river. I thought it was just a fairytale to scare us away from the river but I was proved wrong.
Another particularly strange account comes from the country of Tanzania, where on May 21, 1996 a government owned ferry called the MV Bukoba capsized 56km off the coast of Mwanza. The disaster was already notable for the fact that not only did approximately 1,000 people lose their lives, but also among the dead was Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, who at the time had been the second in command of al-Qaeda and the top guy in their African base of operations. Two men from the terrorist organization were even allegedly sent in to investigate the incident in order to ascertain whether or not he had been assassinated. In addition to this was a peculiar story told by rescue divers sifting through the wreckage in the aftermath of the disaster. Some of the divers reportedly came to the surface scared out of their wits, claiming that a mermaid was patrolling the wreck and speaking to them, telling them to stop looking for dead bodies and threatening violence if they did not listen. The mermaid was also accused of actively chasing divers away.
If these creatures are real in any sense at all, if there is any truth to any of this, whether as mysterious creatures or some form of spiritual entity, one wonders why they are so damn evil in Africa. Whatever the answer to that may be, there can be no doubt that mermaids are firmly rooted in the lore of many African nations, and that many of the local populace and tribes believe in their existence, perhaps coloring these alleged events with superstition and exaggeration. There is no way of knowing how true any of this is, but it is an interesting glimpse into tales of mermaids that are not only perhaps different than the way they are portrayed elsewhere, but also a look at this phenomenon in a faraway, exotic land that many people may not have ever connected to mermaids at all.