They had no fewer than 100 sex slaves, girls as young as 12 who were freed alongside tiny babies early yesterday morning.
Leaders of the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministry cult – called “angels” by their members – have emerged as the alleged masterminds behind Tuesday night’s massacre of five police officers at the police station in the tiny Eastern Cape town of Ngcobo.
Three of the seven Mancoba brothers suspected of involvement in the murders of the officers were killed during a shoot-out with police on Friday.
National police commissioner General Khehla Sithole confirmed to City Press that “not less than 100” young girls between the ages of 12 and 21 were rescued from the cult’s premises.
He said the “indoctrinated and brainwashed” girls and young women were taken to social workers for counselling.
“In this church it is forbidden to have identity documents. Children are not allowed to have birth certificates and they are not allowed to attend school,” Sithole said.
Allegations that the rescued girls were sex slaves will form part of the investigation.
It has emerged that the cult – run by the seven Mancoba brothers and their mother – was well known to the state.
A report by chapter 9 institution the CRL Rights Commission, which was presented to Parliament’s portfolio committee on cooperative governance and traditional affairs in October last year, warned it was a disaster waiting to happen.
Commission chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva told City Press yesterday she interviewed the cult leaders in 2016 during her investigation into church practices and made the parliamentary committee aware of her “serious concerns”.
“Everyone [at the cult] was sitting waiting for Jesus to come. We told Parliament that this was a high risk and these people need urgent attention.
“We warned that there will be something else [that will happen] once their money runs out. Look what has happened,” Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said.
“This has been a ticking time bomb. We said either these people are going to commit suicide or something else will happen.
“We questioned the sanity of church leaders, who saw themselves as angels sent by God.”
The Eastern Cape social development department knew about the cult. Spokesperson Mzukisi Solani said officials went there in 2016 and rescued 18 children. They were taken to places of safety after the department obtained a court order. After the raid, they alerted the CRL commission to the cult.
On Friday night, police tracked down those who allegedly attacked the police station. They were found 3km outside Ngcobo and about 500m from where two of the five slain policemen were executed before their van plunged into a gorge. Seven cult members were killed in the ensuing shoot-out and 10 were arrested.
On Saturday morning, City Press watched as police escorted the girls and small babies to a waiting police vehicle. Some of the children looked terrified. Others appeared to resist the officers’ attempts to rescue them. Onlookers applauded as the bodies of the seven suspects were taken from the cult’s property and loaded into mortuary vans.
The girls were kept in about 10 corrugated iron shacks. Inside, mattresses lined the floor and clothes hung from wires or were dumped on the beds.
A high-ranking police officer told City Press that the cult, in the centre of Nyanga village, was established by a Mr Mancoba, who died in 2015.
Mancoba’s seven sons refused to follow their father’s successor. The “seven angels” and their mother subsequently became the leaders of the breakaway cult.
They soon ran out of money, which the officer said could explain why they attacked the police station and bombed two ATMs in town.
“They need money and are desperate. People of that church are brainwashed. They only live in their own world.”
The officer said at least three of the seven men killed in Friday night’s shooting were among the “angel” brothers, who had masterminded the massacre. One of them is on the run.
“The guys, known as angels, drive very expensive cars, but do not work. They are well known here in Ngcobo,” the officer said.
“There are people here in this town who go to that church. People would give up all their pensions and donate them to the church,” said the officer.
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said cult members were required to sell their cars, houses and other belongings and give the proceeds to the cult’s leaders.
Speaking outside the Ngcobo police station yesterday, Police Minister Fikile Mbalula promised the cult would be closed once police had completed their investigation.
“Yes, there were lots of girls found there and human bodies sleeping over each other. Anything is possible. But it is being processed.
“Some of [the girls] will be taken to a place of safety and linked to their families. Our ultimate objective is for that place to be brought down,” Mbalula said.
Sithole confirmed all 10 of the firearms stolen from the Ngcobo police station on Tuesday night were recovered at the cult’s premises.
On Friday night after 10pm, police pounced after receiving information from a man they arrested earlier in the day.
Officers with the Hawks, National Intervention Unit and Tactical Response Team ordered the members to come outside so police could determine if the stolen firearms were there. Instead, cult members opened fire.
“Within 30 minutes of the shoot out, seven suspects were on the ground,” Sithole said.
“This was an hour after we had arrested one of the suspects. We called our high risk forces to get to the place. The intention for us getting to the church was that, first, we wanted to get our firearms back.”
Mbalula criticised police for not shutting down the cult after local residents reported suspicious activities.
“Why did we let it come to the death of police for us to find guns there, when members of the community had long been reporting the church?”
Why Parliament didn't act
An angry Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said: “Here we are now as a nation. Who must answer? Parliament must answer. We gave them a report last year. We’ve done what needed to be done. It’s up to Parliament to protect innocent people.
“We are living with this nightmare. We should not be waiting for [spurious religious leaders] to do something crazy. We are leaving this in the hands of Parliament. It must pass legislation. We are dealing with people who are a hundred times more dangerous,” she said.
“No one listened to us. This could have been avoided. We told them we cannot have a sector that is not regulated.”
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said the commission could not close the cult because it had no power to do so without an amendment to the CRL Act, which they asked Parliament for last year.
Instead of acting on her report, MkhwanaziXaluva said Parliament’s committee instructed them to organise a national consultative conference with churches to discuss self-regulation, which they had no budget to do.
DA MP Kevin Mileham, who advocated no regulation in the Parliamentary committee, said regulation would not have stopped the tragedy.
“We mustn’t conflate a tragedy with the fact that the people are criminals and that action must be taken against them for their criminal behaviour.
“The CRL wanted to amend the act to allow for the regulation of religion. The argument we heard from various people is that this was going a step too far and that it was not the function of the state to regulate religion.
“People may have funny beliefs, but as soon as someone acts in a criminal manner, then action must be taken against them for that behaviour.
“You can’t try and prescribe for all religion and what people should believe or not believe in. Our Constitution makes provision for freedom of religion,” he said. – Additional reporting by Andisiwe Makinana