Villagers remember Taki

2011-01-19 13:33

Vast tea plantations are the predominant feature of KwaMaJola, an area outside Port St Johns in Eastern Cape.

One reaches this sleepy and high altitude part of Eastern Cape by enduring a two-hour drive on a torturous, meandering gravel trail.

A narrow gravel road from Port St Johns leads to Machibi, a village in KwaMajola famous not for its beauty, but for its harsh living conditions.

In 1970 Thozamile Taki, possibly KwaZulu-Natal’s worst serial killer, was born in Machibi. Dubbed the sugarcane serial killer, he robbed and killed 13 women and dumped their bodies in the sugarcane plantations in KZN Umzinto area and Machibi’s tea plantations.

Durban High Court Judge King Ndlovu today handed him 13 life sentences – for each of the 13 women he killed – plus a further 208 years – 16 years for the aggravated armed robbery of each woman.

News of Taki’s sentencing was the talk of the village on Monday, with his relatives and neighbours recalling his brushes with the law. Most villagers described Taki as a gentle, polite and down-to-earth man they did not think would harm a fly.

The one-roomed dilapidated house Taki occupied since his youth has one old uneven bed and small windows.

Nothing in it belongs to the convicted serial killer.

The house itself belongs to Taki’s cousin, Thembisile Taki who provided sanctuary to Taki when his mother Mabuzelwa Majola-Taki passed away.

Minutes after being ushered into the house, a group of curious neighbours and relatives enter. They all want to say something about the man they watched growing up in their village.

Without interrupting one another, each gives an account of what they knew about the man who made their village famous.

Nokwanda Majali said she watched Taki become a hardened criminal in Johannesburg in the 1990s.

“I was still working in Johannesburg when he visited me. He was still looking for a job at that time. He visited me because we were neighbours here in Machibi.”

Not long after he had visited her, Majali heard Taki was working with Mozambicans to rob people’s homes in Johannesburg suburbs. This is Taki’s first venture into crime the villagers are aware of.

“He was arrested for that and sentenced. He was then transferred to a Mthatha prison where he finished his sentence,” she said.

Orphaned at a very young age, Taki did not have a proper home. When he was released from prison, he stayed at Thembisile’s home, or with the mother of his two children, Vusiwe Daniso. The homes are about two kilometres apart.

Taki fathered two boys with Daniso in 1993 and 2007.

“He would go to any of these two homes to eat or to sleep. He did not have his own home,” Thembisile recalls.

Even when he “worked” in Johannesburg and Durban, Taki failed to build his own home or build a house in Thembisile’s yard.

Villagers are still puzzled why Taki did not build a house, considering that doing so in a village can be cheap.

According to Thembisile, Taki left the village for Durban after he was severely beaten for allegedly robbing an elderly woman of R200.

“He said he was going to look for a job in Durban. He visited us a number of times, but he brought nothing to show that he was working.”

Thembisile said Taki spent much time with his younger brother Thembalakhe Taki, who works at a sugarcane plantation in Umzinto, where most of the bodies were discovered.

Like his brother, Taki also grew up at Thembisile’s homestead. Thembalakhe now has his own home just a few kilometres away from Thembisile’s. Their father left them when them when they were young.

Most of the clothes and cellphones Taki took from his victims were given to Daniso, who had no idea where they came from.

“All these things are confusing to me because Taki was a loving man. He never beat me, he never showed signs that he was a killer,” she said.

Despite the overwhelming evidence against Taki and more than 100 State witnesses who testified against him, Daniso still believes her fiancée should not be jailed.

“I need him here. How am I going to raise these children without him? During Christmas all children had their fathers bringing nice things for them, but my children didn’t have that.”

She said she still loves Taki and wants him to come home.

Daniso works in the tea plantations where her fiancée dumped bodies of two of his victims in 2007. Workers found the bodies.

Speaking to people who saw him grow, one gets a sense of a man who grew up under difficult circumstances and showed no signs of improving his life. When his mother, Mambuzelwa Majola-Taki passed away, Taki began relying heavily on relatives to support him.

Some villagers say that was the main reason Taki failed to finish his education. Like most Machibi children, Taki went to Mambuzelwa Primary, but dropped out before completing matric.

Although Taki had brushes with the law before he become a killer, neither his relatives nor neighbours could remember any indications he was a misogynist. All Taki’s victims were young females that he strangled.

“We have spent time trying to recall any incidents or behaviour where Taki showed that he did not like women, and there is nothing except the fact that he robbed a woman,” said Thembisile.

While it may never be clear why Taki killed, it is likely he will be remembered as one of the country’s worst killers.

He joins the likes of Moses Sithole who was found guilty in 1997 of 38 murders and 40 rapes in Pretoria and Johannesburg.

Just like Taki, Sithole was considered an attractive man by many women, and lured many of his victims to their deaths in broad daylight, by claiming to be a businessman, in Atteridgeville, Boksburg and Cleveland.

Sithole was sentenced to 2410 years in prison on December 5, 1997. He got 50 years imprisonment for each of the 38 murders, 12 years for each of the 40 rapes, and five years for each of the six robberies.

Taki also lured his victims by promising them jobs and led them into sugarcane plantations from the main road.

Taki showed no remorse during the trial. He disputed every piece of evidence presented against him. He smiled when relatives of the deceased cried hysterically in court. He took notes and gave instructions to his lawyer during court proceedings.

All villagers and relatives interviewed said they feared Taki and vowed not to allow him to return to their area, if he were ever to be released.

Taki’s victims: Mkhosi Mgobhozi, Noxolo Mpande, Nosisa Nozozo, Charity Khumalo, Charity Mthethwa, Rose Mjoli, Khanyisile Ncayiyane, Thandeka Mthebeni, Hapiness Mpanza, Philisiwe Mpanza, Nombali Ngcobo, Thandazile Bhokoda and Siziwe Tshongaye.

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