The modest house in Roodepoort, Johannesburg, shows no sign of the horrors that unfolded when he slaughtered his siblings in cold blood, hacking off their heads as part of an offering to the devil.
The family inside is grieving the loss of their dead children as well as their lost son – a man they remember as a sweet, normal boy, until he embraced Satanism and murdered his brother and sister.
Why on earth did he do it, the Mashao family keep asking themselves. It was the devil’s work, claims David Mathabatha Mashao (27), who is spending the rest of his life behind bars for the savage murders of his siblings, Sechaba and Barbara.
He was “possessed” when the murders were committed, six years apart, in 2012 and 2018, his lawyer told the court at his recent trial. “My deceased sister and my deceased brother were against my religious Satanism beliefs and I then planned to kill them in a sacrifice to my Satanic religion,” read his chilling plea statement.
The killer’s aunt, Lebo Mothle (59), stares out of the large window of her living room in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, her eyes unfocused as she recounts the horror that spread through her family like a cancer. “We have still not come to terms with what has happened.
My brother, Ruby, the children’s father, has not recovered,” she says. Her voice is devoid of emotion. Her nephew, Sechaba (21), was in matric when he disappeared in 2012.
The family was distraught, and for four weeks his dad searched high and low for him. “Mathabatha told his father he did not know where his brother was,” Lebo recalls.
“Ruby went to hospitals, mortuaries and even prisons looking for his son, but he could not find him. Eventually he found him at a mortuary, with other unidentified bodies.” Sechaba’s headless body, they would later learn, had been found near Roodepoort train station.
It was initially suspected he’d been hit by a train, but railway authorities said there had been no reports of collisions or crashes on the day his body was found. Mathabatha did not attend his brother’s funeral, Lebo says.
“We felt sorry for him at the time. We thought he was heartbroken at his brother’s death and that was why he did not want to attend the funeral.” Ruby’s ex-wife and the children’s mother, who lives in her home country of Angola, came for the funeral “and we all mourned together as a family,” Lebo says.
They never suspected the cold-blooded killer was living right under their noses. In a gut-wrenching twist, Mathabatha later confessed to his mother that he had murdered his brother.
He visited his mom in Angola in 2014 and complained to her about the nightmares he’d been having, before breaking down and admitting he’d murdered Sechaba. She contacted Ruby who told the rest of the family and went to the police, but they told him there was not enough evidence to prosecute his son.
Mathabatha returned to the family home in Roodepoort in 2016 and settled back in with his father and sister. Two years later Ruby suffered a stroke and had to be hospitalised. “I decided I would fetch Barbara to come live with me here in Atteridgeville while my brother was in hospital,” Lebo says.
When she called her niece to say she was on her way to pick her up, there was no answer. The front gate of the Roodepoort house was locked and no one answered when Lebo called out to say she was there.
She phoned around to ask if any of her relatives knew where Barbara was. Ruby’s brother-in-law, Miguel, said he had keys to the house and would check if everything was okay there. She went to Dobsonville to visit other family when they got a call from Miguel telling them to come over immediately.
It was dark when they arrived and the house was lit up by the flashing blue lights of police sirens. Her blood ran cold when police refused to let them into the house. “They told us it was a crime scene. They said Barbara had been decapitated.”
Miguel had found her body on the kitchen floor with her head lying beside her. Mathabatha, it later emerged, had slaughtered his sister and then taken a bath. He hid his bloody clothes as well as the kitchen knife he’d used to stab her to death and cut off her head. Then he walked to a nearby taxi rank to buy a cooldrink.
A neighbour who had spotted him at the taxi rank before learning about the horrific crime, quickly went back to grab Mathabatha and dragged him back to the house of horror. “When he was brought to the house, I asked him, ‘What did you do?’ His reply was chilling: ‘I don’t know what you are talking about’.”
Ruby met his wife in Angola, where he was living while in exile. They later settled in Johannesburg to raise their three children, Sechaba, Mathabatha and the youngest, Barbara, who was affectionately known as Barbie.
The South Gauteng high court heard that in Mathabatha’s bedroom, above his mirror “Barbie” had been scrawled on the wall below a drawing of an illuminati style pyramid with the all-seeing “Eye of Providence” in the centre.
“It’s all too much to absorb,” Lebo says. “Like any parents they had dreams for their children. “No one could have imagined things would ever become this awful.
They had a regular childhood, she remembers. “They went to Sunday school at the local Lutheran Church here in Atteridgeville. They were just normal kids.” The family was shocked to learn Mathabatha was involved in satanic activities.
“We attended the court proceedings because we wanted to hear why he did it – so we could find closure,” Lebo says. “I told him, right there in the court, that he was a murderer and that I never wanted to see him again. He was not the boy we raised. He was a monster. I do not ever want to see him again.”
As a family they’ve been talking about the horror in an attempt to heal and find closure, but for Lebo, finding it in herself to forgive her nephew is a step too far. “I do not think I will ever forgive him for what he has done. He has damaged this family in the most unimaginably terrible way possible,” she says.
“We thought these things only happen in movies, not in real life and definitely not in our family. We do not know where he learnt these things.” Compounding her sadness is that promising futures were snatched away from her niece and both her nephews.
Sechaba’s matric results were published after his body was found. “He passed with flying colours.” Barbara was working at a call centre but was also studying at Unisa, her aunt says.
“Their father was a soldier, and he was providing for them. “Mathabatha could have been anything he wanted to be. Their futures were bright.”