The ashes of a mud-house destroyed by the family, as it left the village outside Tzaneen. 201210 Picture: Moloko Moloto
The ashes of a mud-house destroyed by the family, as it left the village outside Tzaneen. 201210 Picture: Moloko Moloto

Mob murders ‘witchcraft’ priest

By Moloko Moloto Time of article published Dec 31, 2010

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Armed police watched helplessly as a mob stoned to death a Limpopo priest they believed had “bewitched” his young relative into committing suicide.

Albert Shai, 65, of Rakoma village outside Tzaneen, was killed after a relative, 20-year-old Mohale Shai, apparently committed suicide.

The young man had been found hanging from a tree on Christmas night and the community suspected he died because he was bewitched – and blamed it on the priest.

It’s not clear which church the priest belonged to but it is believed to have been a branch of the Apostolic Church.

Two days later, Shai was “tried” and “sentenced to death” in a mob hearing held at the local soccer field.

His sons, Ronny and Frazer, said they sneaked into the public meeting where the decision to kill their father was taken.

The two called the police, who arrived in two vans within minutes, but were “instructed” by the community not to interfere.

“About four police officers arrived, but they would not get closer to the meeting, because they were outnumbered by the community,” said Ronny.

The mob pelted the police with stones, and they kept their distance. While the police obeyed the order to stay away, Shai was being assaulted.

Ronny said one person hit his father on the chest with a stone.

“The stone was so big that he used two hands to pick it up. My father collapsed,” said Ronny.

A relative of the two bereaved families was among those insisting that his father be killed, he said.

“She told my father, who is her uncle, that he was a witch and that he had to die,” Ronny added.

Shai was taken to his home and ordered to reveal how he had “bewitched” the young man.

Several community members, who did not want to be named, said the police followed the angry mob.

“The police were driving behind the angry mob, but did nothing. No shots were fired to try to disperse the crowd,” they said.

When the mob arrived at Shai’s home, they found that the four officers had called for back-up.

“When the mob arrived at his home, there were about 10 to 15 police vans with dogs, but still the mob threw stones at them (the police)”, said a community member.

Ronny said that when his father failed to demonstrate to the mob how he performed the alleged witchcraft, he was stoned and died in front of his home.

One of the attackers tried to set Shai’s body on fire.

“He put my father’s body on top of tyres and wrapped it with plastic bags, but because there was no fuel like petrol, the fire did not catch,” he said. The attackers also damaged Shai’s house.

All this, Ronny and concerned community members said, happened in full view of the men and women in blue.

But Ronny said he did not blame the police for not acting.

“They really feared for their lives. The community would have killed them too, because the community outnumbered the police.”

No one was arrested at the time of the attack on Monday.

Only on Wednesday did police arrest seven people in connection with the murder.

They face charges of murder and malicious damage to property.

The day after the attack, Shai’s family returned to his home and dismantled the house.

Limpopo police spokesman Colonel Motlafela Mojapelo said he was not aware that police had failed to act.

“Our mandate is to protect lives and property, and every police officer who was called and failed to act as is alleged, action will be taken against them,” he said.

Mojapelo said that police were allowed to shoot if lives were in danger.

The family of Mohale Shai was devastated by his death, but declined to entertain allegations that he was bewitched.

“I don’t want to talk about rumours that he was bewitched because I don’t have evidence to substantiate them,” said a relative who declined to give his name, but identified himself as Mohale’s uncle.

He said his family played no role in the allegations which led to the killing of his neighbour and relative, Albert Shai.

The priest had two wives, who lived in separate villages. This week the youngest fled to her family home in Ga-Sekhukhuni after she witnessed the attack.

The family of the elder wife has now threatened to exact revenge if the accused are released on bail.

“We are going to kill them if the police release them on bail,” said Shai’s son, Pissang.

Limpopo was hit by a wave of attacks on people accused of witchcraft in the 1990s. Scores were burned alive. In some cases, the accused and their families were ordered to leave their villages if they wished to escape death. - Pretoria News

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