Testimony reveals how Gabisile Shabane’s body was dug out of shallow grave and desecrated in muti killing
WARNING: This story contains graphic details that some readers might find disturbing.
The man who dug up and severed Gabisile Shabane’s head has testified how two traditional healers fought over who should keep the skull, which belonged to the girl with albinism.
The astonishing testimony was delivered in the high court, sitting in Middelburg, on Wednesday, by John Magutshwa, who was a neighbour and friend of Thokozani Msibi — a traditional healer who lived in Emalahleni but is originally from Eswatini.
Msibi is one of three men on trial for Shabane’s killing.
The two traditional healers “started to argue about who was to take the head”, Magutshwa, a Swazi national, testified.
The two were Msibi and Mfanasibili Gamedze, he said.
“The head was initially meant to go to Msibi’s place, but Gamedze wanted a piece of it too. I told them that there was no need for us to fight and the police would find us there ... I then proposed that I give Gamedze a piece of the skin from the head and we agreed that he could get a portion of the head from Msibi’s place later,” said Magutshwa.
He then cut a piece of skin from the rotting corpse and handed it to Gamedze.
This incident unfolded in February 2018 on a farm, believed to belong to Msibi, in Cullinan.
Magutshwa was testifying in the case against Msibi, Mthobisi Brilliant Mkhize and Knowledge Wezi Mhlanga. Gamedze died behind bars while waiting to be extradited to SA from Eswatini, while a fifth accused, Josiah Thubane, pleaded guilty to his part in the murder in 2019. He is already serving his sentence.
They stand accused of murdering Shabane, a 13-year-old girl with albinism, allegedly for her body parts. Shabane had been kidnapped along with her 15-month-old nephew, Nkosikhona Ngwenya.
The incident took place on January 28, 2018, when Shabane was kidnapped from her home in Hlalanikale, Emalahleni. It is alleged that the kidnappers, who allegedly included Msibi, Gamedze, Thubane, Mkhize and Mhlanga, had broken into the house late at night, grabbed Shabane and Ngwenya at gunpoint and made off with them.
They had allegedly mistaken Ngwenya for another child living with albinism in the same home. On realising their mistake, they allegedly tossed Ngwenya into a swamp along the N4 where the toddler’s decomposed body was later found.
While Magutshwa admitted to painstakingly sawing through Shabane’s body, he is not charged for the crime as he has instead turned state witness.
Magutshwa’s gruesome and detailed testimony of how he chopped Shabane up solicited murmurs from members of the ANC Women’s League, who were seated in the court gallery — but Magutshwa seemed unfazed and delivered his testimony unmoved.
Shabane was killed so that the accused could use her organs for some powerful muti which, according to Magutshwa, they believed would make them wealthy.
Last week, the court heard from another witness, who TimesLIVE refers to as Mr X, that Msibi had learnt from another traditional healer from KwaZulu-Natal that they had left out a very important component, Shabane’ skull, from their muti concoction which was mostly made of Shabane’s organs.
Digging up and collecting Shabane’s skull was now their quest to rectify this.
Magutshwa told the court how, on the day that he, Misbi and Gamedze returned to the place where Shabane had been buried, he was instructed by Msibi to bring buckets, a knife and a spade — tools they were to use at the burial site.
Shortly after leaving Msibi’s indumba — a hut used by traditional healers — they picked up another man whom Msibi requested to drive them to Cullinan.
The man, who was seemingly unaware of why the trio was headed there, was then left behind at the house on the farm as the three walked into the veld to start digging up Shabane’s body.
“Gamedze told me where to dig,” Magutshwa told the court. “They instructed me where to dig so that I be careful not to hit her face. I dug on the sides until the shovel hit something, indicating to me that I had found what I was looking for. It was a black jacket.”
The jacket had been used to wrap Shabane’s body when she was buried.
“I moved the collar of the jacket back and there was a stench that came from the grave. I then saw the face of the person buried,” said Magutshwa, referring to Shabane. “Msibi then said I must cut off the head and Gamedze gave me the knife and I started cutting,” he said.
“Gamedze then used the spade to repeatedly hit the area where there were bones and I used the knife to finish it off and take off the head. I put it in the bucket,” Magutshwa said casually.
“Msibi then said I should also chop off the hands,” Magutshwa said.
He then covered the grave again, leaving the rest of Shabane’s body in the grave.
Magutshwa said after the grave was covered and each man was satisfied with the loot he had received, they walked back to the car, packed their stuff in the car and headed back home to Emalahleni.
There, they dropped off the man who had driven them at a petrol station. They then came across Mr X, who was on his way back from work. They offered him a lift.
As they approached Msibi’s indumba, they noticed that community members and a group of police had gathered at the yard.
“Msibi stopped the car. We could see there were many people including a cop vehicle and combi. [Mr X] said those were police and he got out of the vehicle and walked to his home,” said Magutshwa.
Gamedze suggested that they drive past but Magutshwa said people would recognise Msibi’s car, causing suspicion.
“Msibi went and parked his vehicle behind one of the police vehicles. A man and woman [police officer] called me to the side. Msibi was taken by others to the indumba and Gamedze was called to where I was standing,” Magutshwa said,
“The police asked who we were and where we were from. We explained we were from Eswatini. They asked for our passports and we told them we had none. We told them we had entered SA illegally. After that, they said we should move away because they had found the owner of the indumba. We left the premises and left Msibi with the police,” said Magutshwa.
The police raided the indumba, searching for any clue that Shabane had been there.
“Later, Msibi called me and said we must come back. He said it’s safe to return and we should relax because they found nothing. This was because all that we had come with was still in the car,” said Magutshwa, referring to Shabane’s head and hands.
The other parts of Shabane’s body, including her private parts and the fat taken from between her thighs, had been disposed of just hours earlier.
The court heard how for days on end, Msibi had kept these items inside an empty mayonnaise bottle in his indumba, checking on the contents ever so often as the mixture brewed. Magutshwa said he would take a bit of the muti every few days, putting it into a smaller bottle.
Just hours before the raid, these body parts had been mixed with muti — fetched from Pongola in KwaZulu-Natal — and then given to a group of wealthy men from Pretoria.
Magutshwa said he and Msibi had earlier on that day travelled to Pretoria to the men’s double-storey houses where rituals were performed and the muti containing Shabane’s body parts was left with each of them in containers. The muti, Magutshwa said, was meant to bring them luck and ensure that they grew their riches.
Magutshwa had earlier told the court that while he had not been present when Shabane was abducted and killed, he had been one of those who was desperate to get his hands on a person with albinism to use for muti.
He said the idea came about during talks with Msibi on how he could become rich and successful, like Msibi was. He told them bringing a person with albinism to them would change their lives forever.
Msibi has been painted by several witnesses as a successful traditional healer, who owned a house in the suburbs, away from where he practised. He drove fancy cars and had money, the court heard.
But during this week’s proceedings, Msibi's image was of anything but a wealthy man.
Seated among his accused, he wore a mask made from a pink cloth that had been cut up and bound together with pieces of string that he tied at the back of his head.
Though adamant when relating his story, Magutshwa avoided eye contact with Msibi and the two other accused in the dock as he delivered his testimony. They gazed at him as he spoke.
While Shabane and Ngwenya's mothers usually sit in the court gallery, listening to the evidence, on Wednesday Ngwenya's mother was not present while Shabane's mother sat outside the courtroom, missing all of Magutshwa's testimony.