Into the dark heart of cannibal coun­try


The fact that he could have eaten him just makes me sick to the stom­ach Ntomb­i­futhi Sit­hole Mongezi’s mother

When in­yanga Nino Mbatha walked into the Est­court po­lice sta­tion last week­end, of­fi­cers won­dered why he smelt so bad.

“He reeked of some­thing,” an officer told the Sun­day Times this week.

The officer, who was an ac­quain­tance of the well-known tra­di­tional healer, said po­lice­men were not im­me­di­ately sure what the smell was as Mbatha walked up to the desk at about 6pm on Fri­day.

They would find out in grisly fash­ion. In the bag Mbatha car­ried were pu­trid body parts — a piece of a leg and a hand.

“He said he was com­ing to re­port that he was tired of be­ing made to eat hu­man flesh and wanted out,” said one of a group of of­fi­cers close to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“He pro­duced these pu­trid limbs and some col­leagues ran off.”

This stom­ach-churn­ing in­ter­ac­tion led to the un­cov­er­ing of a deep, dark se­cret in the KwaZulu-Natal Mid­lands town. If po­lice, com­mu­nity mem­bers and even the mayor are to be be­lieved, peo­ple in Est­court have been eat­ing hu­man flesh as part of a saga in­volv­ing body parts for muti.

Five men have been ar­rested on charges of mur­der and con­spir­acy to com­mit mur­der, and for the pos­ses­sion of hu­man body parts. The men — Mbatha, Lungisani Magubane, Khayo La­mula, Mgabadeli Ma­sondo and Jobe Sit­hole — will ap­pear in court to­mor­row for a bail ap­pli­ca­tion.

Po­lice be­lieve that in at least one case the body parts came from a woman who was murdered by the men. The Sun­day Times has es­tab­lished that at least three graves were dug up in June. Two of the des­e­crated graves are in the town’s Forderville Ceme­tery, while the other is in a tra­di­tional burial site.

When the Sun­day Times vis­ited the area this week, it found a com­mu­nity shaken to its core.

When night falls in Est­court and its sur­round­ing ru­ral vil­lages, res­i­dents hurry in­doors. Only those who work late shifts or who ab­so­lutely have to be are on the streets — and they are usu­ally walk­ing hastily to get to the safety of their homes.

“I knock off at 9pm and have to walk 2km to my place. I have asked my boss to change me to a day shift. I’m new in Est­court and my fam­ily is wor­ried about me,” said Sindi Mtolo, who works for a fast-food out­let.

Son’s grave

Est­court mayor Jabu Mb­hele, a res­i­dent of Ward 18 in Esigodl­weni, where Mbatha comes from, said killings and mu­ti­la­tion of bod­ies were not new in Est­court, es­pe­cially in her ward. Mb­hele at­tended a com­mu­nity meet­ing on Mon­day, and re­counted how fam­i­lies spoke out about miss­ing fam­ily mem­bers and the discovery of mu­ti­lated bod­ies.

“In that meet­ing we learnt of hor­ri­ble and dis­gust­ing prac­tices. Peo­ple told us the sus­pects had said if, for ex­am­ple, they ate a raw hu­man heart, it will make them brave and fear­less,” she said.

Mb­hele said she was aware of the three des­e­crated graves — and fears that sim­i­lar oc­cur­rences might show that the can­ni­bal­ism hor­ror is even more wide­spread than feared.

“I would not say the [five] sus­pects are linked to this, but around the same time [as the three graves were des­e­crated] other graves in Wem­bezi town­ship, in­clud­ing one that be­longs to my hus­band’s rel­a­tive, were vi­o­lated,” she said.

For Ntomb­i­futhi Sit­hole, who went com­pletely blind in 2007, the ar­rests re­opened painful old wounds.

Her son Mongezi Mkhize was shot dead by his el­der brother, Sit­hole’s old­est child, as he was try­ing to pro­tect his mother. He was buried in De­cem­ber 2011.

But in June, some five-and-a-half years later, the grave was dug up, po­lice have con­firmed. Po­lice sources said Mkhize’s body was re­moved, mu­ti­lated and burnt fol­low­ing his ex­huma­tion.

Noth­ing could have pre­pared Sit­hole for the news. “I cried. I asked what it was that God was pun­ish­ing me for,” she said.

Her pain was ag­gra­vated this week when she found out that one of the men ar­rested for deal­ing in and eat­ing hu­man flesh was Mkhize’s brother-in-law, Magubane.

“The fact that he could have eaten him just makes me sick to the stom­ach,” she said.

Ac­cord­ing to Sazi Jer­icko Mh­longo, the na­tional deputy pres­i­dent of the Coun­cil of Tra­di­tional Heal­ers of South Africa, an in­sa­tiable ob­ses­sion to make quick money was fan­ning the killing of peo­ple for body parts.

“This is de­grad­ing our pro­fes­sion and the love of money is per­pet­u­at­ing dan­ger­ous myths.

“You can­not eat hu­man flesh, that’s taboo. Hu­man flesh can­not heal any dis­eases,” he said.

Pic­ture: Khaya Ng­wenya

Esigodl­weni res­i­dent Du­misani Ndlovu stands next to Mongezi Mkhize’s des­e­crated grave.

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