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The eight Pomeroy men who were shot and killed, allegedly while they had gone to reclaim stolen cattle, had been unarmed and were robbed of their cellphones, wallets and shoes while they lay lifeless.
The men were members of a community-based anti-stock theft organisation called Isikebhe and had been taken by a man suspected of stealing cattle to Nkunzini where he said the stolen cattle were hidden.
According to a member of Isikebhe, who did not want to be named because he feared for his life, the men had learnt of the suspect on Wednesday and had gone to where he lives in Mthaleni. “He admitted to stealing the cattle and agreed to show us where the cattle were being kept. He also named other people he was working with,” he said.
He said on Thursday the man was picked up from his home and led an unknown number of Isikebhe members to Nkunzini.
“I was not there when the shooting happened, but those who managed to flee told me that they saw the cattle and when they began herding them out of the bushy area, shots were fired,” he said.
He said the unarmed men were chased, caught and shot at close range and thereafter robbed. The induna of Mthaleni, Mbingelelwa Shabalala, said four of the victims were from Mthaleni, two from Sfuleni and one from Gxushaneni near Msinga.
“Cattle theft has been a problem for years in the area and police have never been able to resolve the issue,” said Shabalala.
Kwanele Ncalane, the spokesman for the provincial department of Community Safety and Liaison, said the death toll – initially reported to be seven – had risen to eight after the discovery of another body at the weekend.
Almost every household in the remote rural area of Mthaleni has empty kraals, with most residents saying this is how it’s been for many years because of cattle theft.
Two of the men who died were siblings. The family of Phindela and Japhata Langa told the Daily News that cattle theft in the area had spiralled out of control over the years.
Shabalala said cattle stolen from various areas in Pomeroy were always found in Mahlaba, a community close to Nkunzini.
“If the government wants to help, that place should be turned into a nature reserve, that place must just be closed and residents of Mahlaba must be relocated,” said Sboniso Langa, an uncle of Phindela, 61, and Japhata, 53.
Dlezakhe Mbatha, 57, was found dead on Friday after his family had heard from surviving Isikebhe members of what had happened.
“We don’t know where to go from here; he was the breadwinner and provided for this home.
“His nine children are… shocked by what happened,” said Thokozile Mbatha, Dlezakhe’s sister-in-law.
Mlawuleli Duze said the picture of his dead father, Qondokwakhe Duze, 63, would haunt him forever. “We went looking for him with police and found (him) there lifeless. He was old and depended on and lived off the cattle. Now we have no cattle and he is also gone,” he said.
Police spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Mdunge, said no arrests had been made. Community Safety and Liaison MEC, Willies Mchunu, was expected to visit the area on Monday.