Mob riots after ‘muthi’ murders

2010-07-10 00:00

A MOB of 500 burnt the homes and cars of four families this week because they were suspected of being behind muthi-related murders in Thokozani village near Albert Falls.

Villagers became suspicious of witchcraft in the area after the discovery of bodies with their limbs cut off.

A large group of community members, who were estimated to number about 500, finally vented their anger on Monday evening. They set alight four homes and five vehicles belonging to the murder suspects. Local police helped the victims to flee to safety.

Nonkululeko Zondi (39) is one of the victims of the mob. Her house and Mercedes-Benz 280 SE were reduced to ashes. Some of her furniture and electric appliances, which survived the fire, were looted.

“After police had left my house when they had come looking for my husband in connection with the murders, I heard a large crowd singing and blowing vuvuzelas outside my house about 7 pm. I took my five-year-old son and escaped. While at the police station, I received a call that my property was burning,” she said.

Zondi said police came to arrest her husband, Vusi Mpanza (52), after locals linked him to the murders.

They said Mpanza, Melusi Mthethwa (31), Dee Ntombela (22) and two other men had killed disabled Sphamandla Shelembe and about 10 others.

The body of 51-year-old Shelembe was discovered on the side of a dirt road at about 6 am on June 9. His heart and tongue were missing, and his head bore gashes.

This and other gory discoveries of mutilated bodies have driven local residents to fear serial killers in the area.

Ntombela said that at about 4 pm on Monday, a group of young men accused him of being among the murderers.

“I found them gathered at the tuckshop. They insisted that I was also a murderer. A large crowd and police later came to my house. I was arrested,” said Ntombela.

While he and others were kept at the police station, their homes were burnt down.

The shell of Ntombela’s burnt bakkie was still in the street on Thursday.

Mpanza, a minibus-taxi driver, said he was returning from Pietermaritzburg when police told him to go to the police station because his house had been attacked.

He denied knowing anything about the murders.

“They warned me to go straight to the police station because I would be killed if I went home,” said Mpanza.

All the victims were detained at New Hanover police station until Wednesday and questioned by murder and robbery unit detectives about the allegations.

“Police released us as there was not enough evidence to charge us with murder,” said Mpanza.

Local residents, including Shelembe’s relatives, declared they are relieved that the “suspects” have left the area, but said they fear revenge attacks. No one admitted taking part in the attack.

Mark Raymond of Mshwathi Fire and Disaster said the crime prevention unit had to intervene when the mob prevented firefighters from putting out the blazing houses and vehicles.

Police spokesperson Warrant Officer Joey Jeevan said charges of attempted murder, public violence, damage to property and arson have been opened. She said no one has been arrested yet.

“Police are still investigating the murder cases,” said Jeevan.

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