/ 29 April 2023

Wellness does not necessitate murder or mutilation, says traditional healers association

Bare Footie Muti Soppy And Sloppy

Young traditional healers and sangomas have deviated from ancestral healing principles by embodying lucrative ritual practices that do not represent the true traditional healers of South Africa, according to traditional healer Mhlongo Sazi. 

“The young have deviated from the truth,” said Sazi, who served as deputy chair of the council of traditional healers and chaired the South African National Traditional Healers Association 16 years ago.

Sazi told the Mail & Guardian that money is one of the biggest driving forces behind the killings for muti or ritual practices. “It’s money. Even the government is misusing money in South Africa, so the young ones want to do the same.” 

He is adamant that no muti or traditional practices demand the killing or mutilation of humans. 

“The people that are killing young ones are not traditional healers, [they] are witchdoctors [and] sorcerers,” said Sazi.    

Crimes that involve the use of human body parts for muti are an ongoing phenomenon in South Africa, particularly in the rural areas of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, the South African Police Service told the M&G.

Murder for muti and ritual practices received renewed attention in April after the mutilated bodies of Mduduzi Zulu, 5, and his cousin, Tshiamo Rabanye, 6, were discovered in Moroka, Soweto. 

Gauteng police spokesperson Colonel Mavela Masondo would not comment on whether the boys’ deaths were considered muti murders but said the potential motive would “form part of the investigation”.

Police announced on Wednesday [LINK] that a 50-year-old woman and her 39-year-old partner were arrested in connection with the murders. The woman is Tshiamo’s grandmother and guardian, Nqobile Ndlovu.

Mduduzi and Tshiamo were playing outside when they disappeared on 19 April. Their corpses were found the following morning in two locations. According to family members of Mduduzi who spoke to the M&G, the boys were found with their throats slit and their foreskins removed. 

A research paper titled Features and Investigative Implications of Muti Murder in South Africa, which was published in the Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling in 2004, explores the reasons for muti murders. 

“’Luck’ resides in the genitals of a man and woman” and are often used for virility purposes, according to the author, forensic psychologist Gérard Labuschagne

Aggravating how muti murders take place is that “traditionally the victim must be alive when the body parts are removed as this increases the ‘power’ of the muti because the body parts then retain the person’s life essence”, he said.  

National police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe told the M&G: “The gruesome nature of a muti murders should, in my personal opinion, serve as loaded aggravating circumstances when it comes to the sentencing of those involved.” 

Family members dismissed reports that the noses of the two boys were severed, saying that parts of Mduduzi’s face was eaten by rodents after his body was discarded at Moroka Park. 

The cousins were last seen alive playing outside Tshiamo’s house, under the supervision of one of the arrested suspects, before they disappeared. 

A third boy, whose identity is known to the M&G, escaped from whoever allegedly tried to kidnap him. He told his mother that a man with a knife had taken Tshiamo and Mduduzi. 

The boy has since been removed from his home to a place of safety. 

Bonga Zulu, the uncle of Mduduzi, told the M&G that although there was crime in the area, the killing of children was “not a normal occurrence”. 

“We are really shocked because no child has died in such a manner,” said Zulu. 

Brigadier Sevha Shivuri, the station commander at Moroka police station in Soweto, said he had not experienced any similar murders in his three and a half years of serving the area. “It touches everybody, every mind. Our personnel were crying this morning. We prayed that God would give us strength. Because that is not normal, it is not a normal crime.” 

In an unrelated matter, a suspect was arrested last week after he was caught selling an older man’s genitalia in a mall in Gcuwa, Eastern Cape. 

Because of the way in which murder data is captured, the police cannot provide accurate figures for the number of victims murdered for their body parts. And, according to Mathe,  many victims of muti murders or ritual practices go unreported. 

“When nobody is looking for you, you are not missing. If an abandoned street child is ‘taken’ for his or her body parts and the body is never discovered, an innocent life simply ceases to exist without anybody noticing,” Mathe said. 

Media reports dated 2014 mentioned an increase in muti-related crimes, particularly in Gauteng. In that year, the police’s occult and harmful religious practices unit announced that 78 such crimes took place over a period of three months. Of the 78 reports, 48 had become criminal cases. 

The police briefed the media in February 2014 after the murder of two Soweto schoolgirls, Thandeka Moganetsi, 15, and Chwayita Rathazayo, 16, in what appeared to have been a satanic ritual. 

The then head of the occult unit, Lieutenant Colonel Hendrik de Jager, said that occult-related crimes “are on the increase, especially in the black areas where young boys and girls are promised fame and riches”. 

In 2006, a special police unit was formed to investigate ritual murders in the Vhembe district in Limpopo. Back then, the Vhembe police reported that there were 47 alleged ritual murder-related cases in Vhembe from 1994 to 2006. 

More recently, Esther Brown, 27, and Mike Brown, 25, each received three life sentences for rape and murder of Esther’s two-year-old child while performing a ritual in April last year. 

Mathe said it was naïve to think that “muti related murders — for the purpose of healing — does not have other agendas”. 

“It seldom has anything to do with healing but more with power, protection, financial gain, influence and controlling the world of the ‘unseen’ for selfish self-centred purposes.”  

Khombisile Ngweyehlathi Nyembe, who has been a traditional healer for more than 20 years, told the M&G that the taking of a life to create muti that is intended to heal would never bear positive results. 

“We always hear of such cases and it is always disturbing. What people do not understand is that as soon [as] someone does this gruesome act they are no longer regarded as a traditional healer, they are … murderers.” 

The chairperson for the African National Healers Association, Johannes Mphelo, said that should a member of the association be found guilty of committing murder or mutilation for the purpose of rituals, the person would immediately be de-registered. 

He said the association regulated its members and ensured that “members are respecting the Constitution and the law of the country in order to maintain the dignity of our ancestors and healers”. 

“Human body parts are not the roots of the African remedies. Instead of us mutilating humans for rituals, we are using herbs, wild animal skins [and] bones.” 

“How can the chosen ones by ancestors and God be the ones who demolish human lives? We are here to uplift their lives”. 

Mathe said the Constitution protected the rights of every religious belief system, but the moment a crime was committed, the police were obliged to act.