Muti killings is a way of life in rural areas

Published Jan 16, 2010


One in five people in South Africa's rural areas has had first-hand experience of a human body part being trafficked after a muti killing.

And, of the body parts mentioned in their accounts, male genitals, breasts, hearts, fingers and tongues are the most commonly listed, according to research undertaken by the Human Rights League in Mozambique and supported by Childline in South Africa.

The study's findings are all the more shocking after the recent discovery of 10-year-old Masego Kgomo's mutilated body in dense bush in Soshanguve, Tshwane.

One of the five men arrested for her murder is a sangoma who allegedly uses body parts for muti. A 14-year-old boy was also arrested.

But Masego's case is one of many. Of the more than 413 individuals who attended workshops for the research report, 22 percent of those who were willing to be interviewed had seen a mutilated body with parts missing or a body part separated from a body.

There were 72 accounts relating to the trafficking of body parts mentioned in the report. Of these, 27 were from South Africa.

"This percentage is far greater than expected and is supported by the general feeling among those attending the workshops and focus groups," said the report.

Between the two countries, 19 different body parts were mentioned as missing from bodies. They included heads, female genital organs, breasts, tongues, ears, eyes, hands, legs, lungs, guts, skin, arms, jaws, lips and fingers.

One of the interview samples in the report was of a case in Bloemspruit where a woman who wanted to fall pregnant went to a sangoma and was advised to wear a belt with children's fingers and penises hanging from it.

"She was made to drink a concoction she believed contained human blood and fat and she was given a piece of flesh which she believed to be a human organ, perhaps a heart. She sliced small pieces from the flesh each night and fried them on a stove," said the report.

Speaking about body-part trafficking to the Saturday Star this week, Simon Fellows, the project manager at the league, said there was a demand in South Africa for body parts and a supply from Mozambique.

"We don't know if there is a demand in Mozambique too because the checks at the South African borders going to Mozambique are far more superior."

He said there was a prevalence of muti-killings in every single province, and in many cases, communities were saying the number of incidents was getting out of hand.

"Every person we came across had something to say. It is a prolific problem that affects every single community. The conclusion is that there is no evidence that adults are specifically asked for, but there is evidence that kids are mutilated."

Fellows related stories of fishermen in Mozambique who use children's belly buttons in their nets to improve their catch. It is also believed that children's body parts bring more luck and prosperity than those of adults.

Joan van Niekerk, from Childline, said it was difficult to establish the true prevalence of muti-killing because people were often too scared to talk about the things they had witnessed.

She said they had also had instances where staff had refused to work on the project because they had felt intimidated. The researchers had grown up in their communities and still adhered to a traditional value system.

"People who do witchcraft are seen as very powerful people by the community. It is a very secretive activity. Even in the community, people are not always sure who did it and where."

And, Van Niekerk said, while the practice was deeply rooted in the rural areas, there were incidents in urban areas too.

The study, Trafficking Body Parts in Mozambique and South Africa, was released last year.

It is a precursor to another study that will look at the prevalence of muti killings in SA. The second study will start in two weeks' time.

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