Cannibalism has set our town back decades‚ says Estcourt mayor
Allegations of cannibalism in Estcourt have set the normally quiet KwaZulu-Natal Midlands town back several decades‚ its mayor‚ Jabu Mbhele‚ said on Thursday.
She was speaking after seven men appeared in court on Thursday on charges of murder‚ conspiracy to commit murder and possession of human body parts.
The grisly story broke in August when alleged traditional healer Nino Mbatha walked into the Estcourt police station to report that he was in possession of body parts and was tired of being forced to eat human flesh. The incident opened a can of worms as Mbatha led police to his home in Estcourt‚ where more body parts were recovered. The case was soon taken over by the SAPS Occult Crime Unit.
Initially five men appeared in court in August‚ but a sixth man was arrested about three weeks ago and a seventh arrested on the morning of the case.
Mbhele cut a forlorn figure as she sat in on court proceedings on Thursday. She tucked herself away on the left hand side of the courtroom‚ sitting in a cream faux fur coat while listening silently to the proceedings. Mbhele kept on glancing at the accused - Nino Mbatha‚ 32‚ Lungisani Magubane‚ 30‚ Sithembiso Doctor Sithole‚ 31‚ Lindokuhle Masondo‚ 32‚ and Khayelihle Lamula‚ 32‚ Wiseman Madlala‚ 28 and Sazi Ndlovu‚ 31 - in utter disbelief as she shook her head several times.
The matter was adjourned to October 12 because one of the men intended pleading guilty‚ meaning the case could be escalated to the high court. The men were all remanded in custody.
While Mbhele was distraught at what the case had done to the town's image‚ she was optimistic the harm could be undone through social dialogues and prayers.
"It's a difficult situation that we are facing. Any municipality is about its people‚ social cohesion and security‚ so incidents like these make look us primitive. Now outsiders never look or pass by Estcourt without thinking about people eating each other‚" said the soft-spoken Mbhele‚ who only became a mayor in August last year replacing Bongani Dlamini.
It has been a double whammy for Mbhele‚ as the alleged incidents of cannibalism not only occurred in her area of Esigodlweni‚ Ward 18 in the east of Estcourt‚ but she was also a personal victim when a grave belonging to her husband's relative was dug up and desecrated early this year.
"What kind of people does the world think we are? Last month we even had German journalists covering this incident‚" she said.
Mbhele now feels the work of rebuilding the community of Estcourt fragmented by this lies solely and squarely on her shoulders.
"I'm happy that the community understands what had happened around and are eager to be part of the process to rebuild and reclaim our good reputation‚" she said.
Mbhele believes that social programmes will assist in this rebuilding process‚ but that divine intervention is also needed.
"I have personally convened several community meetings and prayers to address this issue‚" she said.
Mbhele said these might take up time that should be spent on service delivery‚ but were justified because having safe and secure communities was a priority for residents.
"As a government of the people‚ we are nothing without our people. They must just know that when they need help we are there. This needs us to work together to arrest the situation. It's possible‚" said a sanguine Mbhele.
Later‚ accompanied by some of the councillors including IFP strongman Mthembeni Majola‚ Mbhele addressed hundreds of protesters outside the court‚ urging them not to take matters into their own hands.
"Let us allow the law to take its course and allow the court space to finalise this issue. We are all anxious to see what would eventually become of this matter. We all want justice to be served. I thank you for coming to show support to those who have lost their loved ones through this crime‚" she said.
Mbhele said the community working with law enforcement agencies and even genuine traditional healers will help dispel notions that izinyanga thrive on human flesh.
"We have a lot to do‚" she said.
Among those protesting was placard-wielding Zama Ndlovu‚ from Wembezi‚ where many of the alleged cannibal incidents and grave desecrations have taken place.
She said that all she wanted was for the police to act swiftly when the community report missing people‚ especially children.
"This rule of waiting 24 to 48 hours is just nonsense. By that time they would have cooked the child. We want to see these people's faces too. Why are we being prevented to enter court every time we come here‚" said Ndlovu.