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Mbombela - Police officers investigating a muti murder involving a six-year-old Mpumalanga girl have denied torturing one of the accused into confessing to the crime.

They were testifying on Thursday in a trial-within-a-trial where Sifiso Vilakazi, 25, Thabile Mnisi, 33, and Stella Zulu, 49, are charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

The matter was being heard in the Nelspruit circuit of the High Court in Pretoria, a Sapa correspondent reported.

The three are accused of killing Dimakatso Shabangu, who went missing on April 21, 2009. Her body was found floating in a river four days later.

The court heard that Zulu was not acquitted from the crime, but had challenged the confession statement she said she was tortured into signing.

This led to a separate trial for the court to establish if her allegations were true.

The court heard Zulu was tortured with a plastic bag and suffocated during interrogations until she signed the confession.

“It is not true that I tubed her to make her confess. I know that she was taken to officer Mabunda for an interview. I was called as a female when she needed to go to the toilet so that I could escort her,” said Detective Constable Phumzile Shungube, from Tonga police station.

Defence lawyer Jacques Oosthuizen asked Shungube if she recorded her work in her pocket book on a daily basis as required.

She told the court that she sometimes ran out of pocket books or lost them.

“I noted everything I was doing on that day as I was busy assisting with the case. I do not know where my pocket book is,” said Shungube.

Oosthuizen explained to the court that Zulu had told him she was assaulted, threatened and tortured into confessing.

He said Zulu named Shungube and other officers.

“She was forced to lie on her back on the desk of officer Mangane. She lay there and fell down,” said Oosthuizen.

Constable Myburgh Mashabane told the court he was only part of the team investigating Shabangu's disappearance and he knew nothing about the torture claims.

“I was part of the searching team, tasked by my supervisor officer Mangane and I do not know anything about tubing; I have only heard about it on television. Since I have heard about it now, I will get more information on it,” he said.

Tonga police crime prevention sector commander Captain Timothy Simon Mbombi told the court that Zulu confessed to having suffered nightmares because of the murder she and her co-accused had committed.

“She told me that she understands the confession because she made a statement to the magistrate. I am a police officer that can take a statement and give evidence in court,” Mbombi said.

“I explained to her that she can call her lawyer or get a state lawyer but she told me that she would consider a lawyer later. She said 'I am having nightmares and I cannot sleep at night'.”

Mbombi said Zulu told him she would show him where Shabangu was murdered.

Earlier, Nsikazi Magistrate Snowy Masango testified that he noticed Zulu was swollen when she came to court but did nothing about it.

“She told me that she was swollen and I saw that she was swollen. I made a mistake there. I did not regard it as wounds but swelling. I did nothing to assist her because she was under police's hands. I trusted them and maybe I forgot to think of taking action,” said Masango.

He said Zulu told her she had been assaulted by an angry mob from her community.

“I asked her if she had been forced, assaulted or threatened to make a statement by any police officer and she said no. I then asked her if the community had forced, assaulted or threatened her into making a statement to the police and she said yes.

“I wrote it down but I did not see where she was hurt but she told me she was assaulted by members of the community. She did not have any cuts,” said Masango.

Vilakazi, Mnisi and Zulu have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Vilakazi and Mnisi are out on R3000 bail while Zulu is out on R5000 bail.