Witch fear in murders

2015-10-29 10:33
Police remove bodies from the scene of a gruesome family massacre in Mabaleni, KwaZulu-Natal. (Supplied, SAPS)

Police remove bodies from the scene of a gruesome family massacre in Mabaleni, KwaZulu-Natal. (Supplied, SAPS)

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Durban - Two men have said they hacked eight people to death with bush knives at Umzinto because they believed that their family was being bewitched and they would be next to die.

Five of the victims, all of whom were relatives of the killers, were children between the ages of 1 and 15.

Thulani Mncwabe, 28, and his brother Sibonelo, 26, are expected to be sentenced by Pietermaritzburg High Court judge Jacqueline Henriques, sitting with assessor Gerhard Barnard, on Thursday.

They pleaded guilty to murdering their uncle and aunt, Mantinga, 72, and Sibonisile Mncwabe, 70, as well as Phindile, 36, Nothando, 15, Thobisile, 12, and Philasanda Mncwabe, 2, Amahle Mhlongo, 3, and Sonqoba Khomo, 1, on the night of October 20.

The men explained in written statements read out by their legal aid attorney Trisha Moonsamy that they believed their family was being “targeted by witchcraft” following a remark by their uncle at the funeral of their brother Mthokozisi in May.

Their uncle had said they should “not close the grave as there was going to be another death” in the family.

Thereafter their sister suddenly died on October 3. She was 10-years-old.

Whilst discussing the deaths of their siblings, the two said they believed they would be the next victims of witchcraft at the hands of “Mantinga and Sibonisile”, and decided to kill the couple.

Armed with bush knives, they went to the homestead, consisting of six structures. “I peeped through the doors in search of Mantinga. I saw Mantinga asleep alone in one of the structures. The door … was locked,” said Thulani Mncwabe.

He said they set fire to the grass roof to force their uncle to come out. He opened the door but stepped back inside when he saw them.

“I entered Mantinga’s structure first and Sibonelo followed. I struck Mantinga twice using my bush knife. Thereafter Sibonelo also used his bush knife and struck Mantinga twice … Mantinga cried out for help and his two granddaughters approached the now burning structure.”

He said Nothando and Thobisile Mncwabe approached and, on seeing their faces, “started shouting out our names”.

They fled into another structure and the two killers followed. “It was very dark in that structure. Sibonelo stood guard at the doorway. I went inside and blindly struck at anyone that came my way using my bush knife. It happened very quickly,” said Thulani.

He said he and his brother were arrested by police the next morning.

State advocate Mbongeni Mthembu has urged the court to impose life sentences on the killers, despite their claim that they acted out of a belief in witchcraft.

Mthembu said they had killed their uncle and aunt, believing they were bewitching the family, but the other victims were “potential witnesses who could testify against them”.

He said the men knew before the incident that the victims were a vulnerable elderly couple, and that children also lived in the homestead.

The three survivors were “one eyewitness who led police to the accused”, a mentally disabled woman, and an 18-year-old youth who was “still fighting for his life in hospital”.

“They butchered these people and failed to spare even the lives of children,” said Mthembu. “What does a 1-year-old boy know of witchcraft?” he asked.

He submitted this was a “plain revenge killing” and urged the court to send a message to society that murders such as these would not be tolerated.

Moonsamy asked the court to have regard to the fact that her clients had pleaded guilty and were “deeply regretful” for their actions.

She said they did not act out of vengeance, but fear for their own lives. Neither was highly educated and they had a deep-seated belief in witchcraft.

The court hopes to impose sentence at midday on Thursday.

Read more on:    durban  |  crime

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