By Doreen Premdev

Desperate to live a normal life, Faranah Essop hoped an exorcism would get rid of the "evil spirits" that possessed her - but she was beaten to death during an eight-hour ritual.

Faranah, 20, of Chatsworth, near Durban died last Thursday after an all night beating by two men who claimed to be spiritual healers.

Faranah's brother, Zain Essop, said his sister had been "possessed" for the past five years and that the ritual was meant to "cure" her.

Faranah was beaten with a whip (or a veerajati, which is used by some Hindus to ward off evil spirits), throughout the ritual. Post mortem results confirmed that she died as a result of the beating.

"She would see things that nobody else could see, she would have a conversation with an invisible person," Zain said. "When we would ask her who she was speaking to, she would go into a fit of rage.

She would say that we should not talk to her friends. 'They only speak to me,' she said.

"Faranah loved birds and she had three of them. I watched her just stare at a bird for a few minutes and the bird fell to the floor off its cage. It was dead. At the time I did not think anything of this. But the same thing happened to the other two birds.

"She would often speak of the afterlife. She said she had met deceased relatives and the Prophet Mohammed," Zain said.

Shireen Essop said her daughter had pleaded with her to help her so she could live a normal life.

"We have been to spiritual healers from all religions. My child was suffering, I could not just stand by and watch her suffer," Shireen said.

"We were desperate and we took any kind of help we could get."

Shireen said her brother-in-law knew of two Hindu "spiritual healers" who claimed they could perform exorcisms.

"My brother-in-law made the arrangements with the two men to come over to my house last Wednesday," Shireen said.

"The men got dressed in saris and applied a purple powder (used in prayer and referred to as kungum by Hindus) on their foreheads," Zain said. "They said they needed to assume the role of women in order to conduct the prayer.

They said that we should stay indoors and not interrupt the ritual.

They said that we should not feel pity when they beat Faranah, because she would feel no pain. The beating, they said was to force out the evil spirit. They also said that if one of the family members was outside, the spirit would leave Faranah's body and enter the body of another family member."

Zain said the men took Faranah outside and tied a rope around her neck. They started a fire and the ritual began.

"My mother, grandmother, cousins and myself sat inside the house. We could hear the two men demanding that the spirits that possessed Faranah identify themselves. She remained silent and then the beating started.

We looked out the window and saw one of the men holding on to the rope, which was tied around Faranah's neck. The other man was beating her with the whip. At around 1am my mother demanded that the men stop the beating. But they said she should not feel pity for 'this evil thing'."

At 5am, the men stopped the ritual and went home. Zain said Faranah was taken into the house and her limp body laid out on her bed.

Zain said: "She was alive at the time, but she was drowsy. At 6.30am, her body was ice cold. I tried to wake her up, but she did not respond. I felt for a pulse and there was nothing - she was dead.

I immediately informed my family and the Islamic Dawah Care Centre."

Neighbours described Faranah as a "perfectly normal" woman who was shy and respectful.

President of the Islamic Dawah Care Centre, Rashid Suleman, said the community would go on a "witch hunt" and drive out quack spiritualists. "Faranah had endured a beating so severe her jaw was broken and her body had turned purple. Her body was disfigured.

This sort of thing will not happen again," Suleman said.

Police spokesperson Inspector Collin Chetty said, in light of the post mortem results, the police were investigating murder.