Mbabane - A wheelchair-bound man in Swaziland has offered his “useless” legs to suspected muti killers in exchange for the lives of three girls who disappeared this week under mysterious circumstances.
The man and others believe they are at risk of being killed so that their body parts might be used in potions to assist aspiring MPs supernaturally.
The day before a hotly contested primary election for parliament, Swaziland is gripped by panic at the disappearance of three children who are feared to have been killed by agents of candidates seeking magical potions.
As members of rural communities where the children vanished search for the three girls, aged six, eight and 13, and police posted rewards for information leading to their kidnappers, talk of ritual killings - which are believed to spike during each parliamentary election period - continues.
The paraplegic man, Mgadzanga Hlatshwako, offered to give his legs to the abductors in exchange for the children’s safe return.
“My legs are of no use to me. (The kidnappers) can have them,” said Hlatshwako, 54, who was born without the use of his legs.
Human beings, particularly children, are believed to be murdered so that their body parts can be included in potions that “empower” the user.
Human body parts have been found in the huts of traditional healers by police in the past.
A sizeable contingent of police assigned from posts in the central Manzini region are concentrating their search for the children in areas where the girls might have got lost or might be held.
“It is not likely they got lost, because the girls disappeared from under their parents’ noses,” said Charity Dlamini, a resident of Ekudzeni where two of the girls went missing.
One girl disappeared while her mother was doing the laundry. Another disappeared as the family were preparing to go to church.
Most Swazis believe Hlatshwako is sincere in his offer but hasn’t thought through the details.
“Is he going to sacrifice his life for the girls, because the muti killers want living flesh. He can’t have an operation and give them dead flesh,” said Aaron Simelane, a traditional-medicine maker.
Simelane said he was not a traditional healer, or wizard, but spoke from knowledge and not from experience.
Other Swazis express doubt that the kidnappers would allow the exchange of Hlatshwako’s legs for the girls out of fear of exposing themselves to authorities.
An academic at the University of Swaziland, who did not want to be named, noted: “Ritual killings to achieve elected office are a natural outgrowth of a government based not on rationality or democratic principles but on superstitious beliefs.
“The Swazi king claims power through an annual Incwala festival where a bull is brutally sacrificed and mysterious rituals occur, and this sets the tone. No one knows how office-holders are appointed in Swaziland. It’s all done in secret, without recourse to merit or any rhyme or reason, so this fuels irrational beliefs.
“Ritual murder has long been part of Swazi life. It is understandable that people are terrified for their children this week.” - Foreign Service