Terror after muti murders

By Chris Makhaye

Fear this week gripped Bizana and Port Edward - where at least eight women and a man have been killed in the past three months for muti.

The women were hit on the head with a hammer, raped and had their genitalia removed while they were still alive.

Despite three arrests made this week, many residents will not return home, fearful that the muti kingpin is still out there, waiting to strike. They sleep at work or in the fields.

Such is the terror in the community that impromptu patrols have been organised, and one man suspected of involvement has been lynched, his body dumped in sugar cane fields.

While police put the number of dead at nine, the community believes the figure is closer to 18.

When the Sunday Tribune visited the area this week, we met Thembi (not her real name), 13, who cried uncontrollably as she received counselling for the first time since a gruesome discovery in her home in Izikhuba district. Her whole family was wiped out.

Thembi was one of more than two dozen women who attended a counselling session at Mzamba's Ebenezer Hall this week.

She said she had been sent by her father to a house in a neighbouring location and had to stay the night there because it was late.

Last Saturday morning she came back home to find her father and two older sisters had been killed in their beds. Her father, Madodebhunga Yalo, had been hit with a hammer. A grinder had been used to cut his skull open and his brains had been removed.

Her two sisters, Nandipha, 21, and Nobuhle, 20, had also been hit on the head with a hammer and a sharp instrument had been used to remove their genitals from their bodies.

The three family members will be buried next Saturday.

They are not the only victims. At least six other women have been killed in a similar fashion in less than three months.

It is believed body parts are sold to traditional medicine practitioners at the Bizana market to make strong muti.

Two men have appeared in the Bizana magistrate's court.

They are 19-year-old Vusi Sixikixa, a Grade 12 pupil at Nombuso Secondary, near Port Edward, and 24-year-old Sonwabile Qhosha of Mzamba.

A 30-year-old man is to appear in court on Tuesday alongside them, after being arrested in Jeffreys Bay.

Police confirm they are questioning suspects and the names of two sangomas are being repeatedly mentioned.

On Thursday in Izikhuba district, hundreds of women and men attended a meeting to vent their anger. It was resolved that young men would patrol the neighbourhood and deal with suspicious strangers.

Woman workers at the local Wild Coast Sun casino, who had two colleagues killed by muti murder syndicates, are now resorting to sleeping on benches outside the casino resort for fear of travelling home after their night shifts.

The recent arrests follow the deployment of a high-level task team of top detectives from organised crime units in Pretoria, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

Police believe the killings started in October last year, when a 15-year-old schoolgirl's body was discovered on the R61 road in Mzamba location. She had been raped, hit with a hammer and had her private parts removed.

Local resident Mary Makhawula believes the murder investigation would not have borne results if the task team had not arrived to help the Mzamba police.

On January 8 her granddaughter, Nozibele Ngeleka, 25, great-grandchild Yamkela, 11, and a friend, Lungiswa Tshutsha, 20, were attacked while they were sleeping.

Nozibele died after having been hit with a hammer, raped and her genital area removed.

Lungiswa was attacked in a similar fashion and died in hospital two weeks later. Yamkela was hit with a hammer and raped, but she survived and spent about six weeks recovering in hospital.

Nozibele's 3-year-old son was also in the room. The attackers ordered him to cover his face during the attack. He was found in the morning, his clothes full of blood.

"In my 76 years, I have never seen anything like I discovered that morning," Makhawula said. "What these thugs did is very painful. What is even worse is that the accused are local boys," she said.

One Wild Coast Sun worker, who asked not to be named, said women at the casino were afraid. "Before, we used to go home after our night shift. But since the death of our colleagues many of us sleep on benches outside the casino, in the staff canteen or in the laundry, and go home in the morning," she said.

Nobantu Mjongeni, who lives in Mzamba and works at a banana farm near Port Edward, said, "I have not been home now for two weeks. I am scared because these criminals not only attack on the road, but come into homes to kill."

Local community leader Vuyani Cele said it appeared that the killers typically struck their victims, raped them while they were still dazed and remove the body parts while they were still alive.

"We started patrols this week because we want to put an end to these killings. Police tell us about 65 members of these syndicates operate in our community," Cele said.

Such is the fear that on Monday night heavily-armed community members descended on the house of Bongani "Vokoza" Sonjica, who was suspected of being the muti kingpin. He was abducted and assaulted. His bloated body was found on Tuesday morning in a sugar cane plantation, with open wounds to the head and cuts all over his body.