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KwaZulu-Natal - A high-level police investigation is under way after six members of a Greytown family were gunned down by unknown killers in the early hours on Saturday.
The attack left five adult brothers of the Mkhize family and a relative dead, as well as three young boys seriously injured.
They were shot execution-style during the pre-dawn attack in the Tshekani area of Muden, 20km from the Greytown CBD.
The surviving boys – aged three, four and 17 – were taken to a Pietermariztburg hospital.
The four-year-old was discharged after doctors attended to his chin, which was grazed by a bullet.
Of the men, Bongumusa Mkhize, 35, escaped injury.
Only the women, including a 90-year-old grandmother, in the Mkhize household were spared.
Although police said the motive was unknown, it is believed that members of the Mkhize household had been accused of stock theft.
The Sunday Tribune can also disclose that among those who will be investigated are members of Isikebhe, a vigilante group notorious for executing those accused of cattle rustling.
The group held a meeting in the area on Friday night, just hours before the attack.
“There is a possibility members of Isikebhe were involved,” said a source close to the police investigation.
The Sunday Tribune has learnt that the probe will extend to a group of police officers who arrested Mhlengi Tonqo Mkhize two weeks ago for possession of an illegal pistol.
“We want to look at whether he was disarmed to render the family defenceless, so they could be hit. It’s too much of a coincidence,” said the source
Police spokesman Colonel Vincent Mdunge said the provincial commissioner Mammonye Ngobeni had assembled a task team to hunt down five suspects.
The family were asleep when they were attacked just after 3am by five men with AK-47 assault rifles and handguns. The gang did not take any belongings.
Ntombi Mkhize said she and her husband, Mhlengi Tonqo, were asleep when they heard a commanding voice just after 3am. “Open, it’s the police,” it said.
When Mkhize opened the door, a torch came on and a gun shot rang out, hitting him in the stomach. When he fell, a man came towards him and shot him a few more times in the head.
The men then moved to the other huts where they killed his four brothers and a visiting cousin.
Recounting the massacre, a distraught Ntombi Mkhize said on Saturday: “They said they’re people of the law. My husband said, ‘Okay, I’ll open.’
“He did and then tried to light a candle, but they shot him. I fell and hid on the other side of the bed. They didn’t ask for anything.”
Mkhize added, “We are so afraid, we don’t know if these people will come back.”
Bongumusa Mkhize, the only male family member who survived, was still shaken on Saturday.
“Initially, I thought these were police since we were raided by them recently. But when I heard shots being fired and women screaming while other men were kicking out the doors of the other huts, I ran behind the hut and escaped into a donga,” he said.
Mkhize added, “I don’t know where I’ll sleep and we don’t know if they’ll come back.”
The dead are Mngeni Mkhize, 45, Simphiwe Mkhize, 32, Mhlengi Tonqo Mkhize, 38, Lungisani Mkhize, 17, Sibusiso Mkhize, 17 and Sizwe Zondi, 18.
Those who survived were Bongani Mkhize, 17, Phelelani Mkhize, 4, and Fika Mkhize, 3. The surviving toddlers are Mngeni’s sons.
Lungisani, Sibusiso and Sizwe were pupils at nearby Mount Ernestina Combined School.
The humble Mkhize homestead in Muden is 20km from the Greytown CBD. It has nine mud huts. Yesterday the homestead was teeming with police, shocked neighbours and a large contingent of journalists.
Blood on the floors and gaping bullet holes on the walls were a gruesome reminder of how the family members met their end.
Mkhize denied allegations of stock theft. “Even if you took something from someone, that person will be arrested and the law exists for that.”
Police spokesman Colonel Vincent Mdunge said the police had taken statements from witnesses.
In 2007, then community safety MEC Bheki Cele ordered police to investigate the Isikebhe organisation after reports that some of its members had committed crimes, including murder, in the name of helping the police deal with crime.
Last August, eight members of Isikebhe were killed in Pomeroy near Msinga. This came after they had allegedly attacked a man suspected of stealing cattle.
In an unrelated incident that week, five people were killed and 17 were injured in an attack in Ngudwini near eShowe.