03/08/2008 ***Sunday Tribune*** Pupils from a school in Crossmoor are performing rituals in Crossmoor cemetries. PICTURE: SANDILE NDLOVU

Neil Oelofse

Garden Route Media

A Humansdorp priest and five of the African Gospel Church congregation have been accused of murdering a seven-year-old girl during a bizarre exorcism ritual, believing that her epilepsy was caused by demons.

Pastor Lonwabo Thando, 30, and Mhlabelesi Nodaka, 22, Unathi Norushu, 22, Nteboheng Thukani, 21, and Busisiwe Thukani, 24, appeared in the Humansdorp Magistrate’s Court last week charged with murdering Mihlali Mazantsi.

They will stay in jail till they apply for bail today, along with a 32-year-old man who was also part of the “prayer group” which apparently tried to do the exorcism.

Police spokeswoman Lieutenant-Colonel Priscilla Naidu said the last suspect was arrested at the weekend. She said police would oppose bail for all the accused.

They are also charged with the attempted murder of a 25-year-old woman who was allegedly locked in a house in KwaNomzamo township for four weeks and repeatedly assaulted.

Mihlali was apparently sent from her home in Keiskammahoek to the church by her mother, Nomaxabiso Mazantsi, to be cured of epilepsy with a “healing miracle”.

Mazantsi told the Cape Times yesterday that her daughter started having epileptic fits in May.

“The fits stopped but started up again in September. We took her to the doctor and the traditional healer, but nothing helped.”

The church in Humansdorp was recommended by friends.

“We were told that other people were healed there. I put my faith in God. I wanted them to heal Mihlali.” Mazantsi said her father took Mihlali to Humansdorp and left her in the care of the church.

“They told us the fits were caused by demons which had to be removed through prayer.”

She travelled to Humansdorp a few days later to find her child vomiting and suffering from diarrhoea. She slept overnight in the same house as her child, but was initially not allowed close to her.

“They told me she was getting better. The pastor said she was vomiting because the demons were leaving Mihlali.”

Mazantsi said she was encouraged to attend a church service in a marquee tent set up by the church near the house where her daughter was being kept, and was later allowed to go to her bedside.

“Her face was swollen and her left eye was closed. There was a bruise over her eye. I tried to lift her up to me to hug her, but she said her body was sore. Then she coughed and started to vomit again.”

Mazantsi said Pastor Thando shook her daughter by the shoulders while calling out her name. “Then pastor took her to hospital in his BMW. I followed in our car.”

A doctor who examined the girl told the mother it was “too late”.

“The doctor was angry. He wanted to know who had done this. He said he was calling the police,” said Mazantsi.

She said a post-mortem examination had revealed liver damage and a number of external and internal injuries.

Naidu said the woman who filed the charge of attempted murder did not want to be named.

“She is a member of the community and fears for her life.” She was given a medical examination and found to have injuries and bruises all over her body.

According to reports, Kwanomzamo residents celebrated the arrest of the priest and the congregants.

They said church members often ran through the township after midnight making a noise and accused people who did not attend church of practising witchcraft.