Pretoria - Panic and fear has engulfed homeless people in Pretoria where a nocturnal prowler is attacking and viciously killing them in their sleep.
In the last few weeks, the bodies of five homeless men, who were bludgeoned and stabbed repeatedly, were discovered around Magnolia Dell Park in Muckleneuk.
The usually bustling park was more fairly deserted compared to other days, almost suggesting locals were still traumatised by the recent spate of killings.
Vusumuzi Makhanya, who recycles plastic and has made the park his home since 2016, said he lives in constant fear for his life.
"Can you think about it, there is someone out there out to get us, us who are poor, and kills us for no reason," he said shaking his head.
Makhanya said he plans to find another spot to live and sleep, somewhere where he can feel safe and not worry about his belongings when he leaves for the day.
"The streets are rough, when you leave your valuables, at least you must have people that you trust and have formed bonds with. If you don't know anyone, you'll always be a victim of theft," he said.
Makhanya said forming bonds and building trust was also not that easy because people often look out for themselves only.
"But I would rather leave than die here."
Magnolia Dell is a haven for the homeless, especially the northern side of the park. Before the murders, visitors to the park were usually greeted by the homeless basking in the sun or washing their clothes in the stream running in the park.
Since the killings, some visitors said they were cautious of their surroundings and opted to visit the park very early in the afternoon and leave just before sunset.
Others said they were undeterred by the recent incidents. “Whoever is killing people is not going to stop us from enjoying this city gem,” said David Oliphant, who was there with his partner.
The fear has not only affected the homeless living in the park, but it has spread as far as Paul Kruger Square in the CBD, which has turned into a home for those without shelter.
"I'm scared, I sleep with one eye open because we don't know who this person is and how he targets his victims," said Moses Hlatshwayo.
Hlatshwayo says he works as a car guard and he is familiar with a lot of people that work around the area. "I make an honest living and it's not much, so it doesn't make sense because this person won't benefit from my death."
He said police have to work harder to find the killer terrorising the homeless.
"That person must make sure we don't find him first because we going to cut his head. You can't go around killing people for no reason, people should die on their own," Hlatshwayo said.
Gauteng provincial police have constituted a high-level investigating team to put a stop to the killings.
According to provincial police spokesperson, Brigadier Mathapelo Peters, the decision to escalate the investigation was due to the urgency of finding the killer and restoring calm to the homeless in Pretoria.
The high-level task team will comprise specialists from forensic services such as pathologists and criminal psychologists, crime intelligence members, and detectives to prioritise the investigation.
In a statement, police have said they are in the process of getting the homeless people into shelters.